ONES TO WATCH / LOIS O'HARA
In the third instalment of our ongoing Ones To Watch series, we're surfing a wave of creativity with Lois O'Hara, a young up-and-coming artist from Brighton with bags of energy and ambition.
A recent graduate from the Illustration course at AUB (Arts University Bournemouth), Lois O'Hara is fascinated by process. Her vibrant and diverse creative practice takes in printmaking, design and art direction, illustration, site specific murals and painting (on surfaces including wood, canvas and plastic). There is, however, a consistent thread running though her work. "I'm interested in capturing the fluidity of an image in motion," says Lois, and it's this sense of fluidity – combined with her love of process and bold colour combinations – that makes her work so recognisable.
'Yearning' – three-colour screenprint (50x 70cm) exhibited in Jealous Needs You 2016
Although her illustration course rarely ventured into the print department, that didn't stop Lois. Having glimpsed its inky delights on a tour, she resolved to spend her spare time exploring squeegee and screen. Her practice continues to evolve, with process driven experimentation as the key; "sometimes an accident can be the eureka moment," says Lois. Her eye-catching experiments are certainly getting noticed... People of Print published an interview with Lois in June, and she's also a vendor on their Department Store site. Her Yearning screen print appeared in the 2016 Jealous Needs You exhibition (at The Saatchi Gallery), and her work also featured in this year's Creative Debuts showcase. On the eve of several new exhibitions, including her first solo show at The Square in Brighton, we caught up with Lois to find out more…
Screenprint created for The Vending Machine Art Gallery at Bestival 2017
Look Up Hi Lois. What drew you into the world of screens and squeegees?
Lois O'Hara I first fell under the printmaking spell a few years ago when we had a tour around the print room at uni. I couldn’t stop staring at the fluoro orange ink in the cabinet! During my college years and the beginning of university, I felt that a lot of people were getting lost in the digital world, and everything had to be crisp and immaculate. I fell in love with the authenticity of screenprinting and how satisfying it feels to hold a finished screen print that I've worked up a sweat for. I also love how vibrant screenprints can be – I've never been able to get that with digital prints.
LU Who inspires you, creatively?
LOH Camille Walala has been a big inspiration for me. She replied to an email saying it took her 8 years to get to where she wanted to be. It was refreshing to hear how another artist had worked hard to get to where they are now. Our work is rather different, but we both have an obsession with colour; I can relate to her crazy colour palettes.
'Plastic Pollution' – anti–littering screenprint (A2) for YOUNG+IDLE
LU You make prints but you also paint: how does printmaking fit into your practice as a whole? Do you see yourself focusing more on printmaking in the future, or are you keen to explore other avenues?
LOH Printmaking is something I am pushing more and more. I think this is partly because I never lose that buzz when I've finished a good print. I think the more artists who explore traditional ways of working, the better! It would be such a shame if everything went digital. Don’t get me wrong, I use my laptop for many, many things, but when it comes to the production side I prefer a messier, hands on approach. On the other hand, I'd love to create more risographs, so… as you can tell – my creative practice is varied!
LU How do you think your painting informs your printmaking, and vice versa?
LOH I often create a screenprint and then paint a composition on canvas that resembles it. By flipping shapes upside down or by adding a gradient to a section, you can make an entirely different and exciting fresh artwork from something that conveys the same message. Painting and printmaking are currently holding hands in my practice!
Painting on plastic (A3) – painting on one side, but displaying the reverse
LU I love your plastic paintings – painting on one side but displaying the other to reveal images you don't have control over. Are you keen to embrace happy accidents?
LOH I'm a huge fan of happy accidents. A few of my finished artworks are happy accidents. I enjoy working on plastic and using the reverse side as the finale, as you end up with unexpected movement and composition. I also like to paint on plastic as it catches the light. I want to explore how reflections from these paintings can form interesting imagery, and how I can capture those reflections in new print ideas. Also, when I'm screenprinting, I'm not so keen on putting registration marks down, as I like the imagery to 'free fall' on to the paper so each print is distinct and natural.
LU Can you tell me a bit about your home printmaking studio? It sounds like a sweet set-up… It must be great to have the freedom to print whenever your creative muse strikes.
LOH I am very lucky and grateful to have a bedroom studio that is spacious and convenient. I have a long desk and a sink, which is how I am able to screenprint – and a wooden floor covered in paint! Although my bed looks out of place, visually, it's convenient when inspiration strikes late in the night. I often have to get out of bed to create what I'm visualising, there and then. It does make me feel a bit crazy, but if I just jot down the idea on my phone, I can never remember exactly what it was I was thinking.
LU You mentioned that you surf. In Barbarian Days, William Finnegan's Pulitzer Prize winning biography, he waxes lyrical about surfing and its vast potential for creative expression… Do you see surfing as a creative outlet?
LOH I started surfing around seven years ago. I liked the idea of escaping reality, and that's exactly why I enjoy creating art. It's an escape. I came across a good quote the other day: "passion fills emptiness". The way a surfboard moves around a wave is a sped up take on me applying ink to a surface. For me, they're both a creative outlet and an adrenaline rush.
LU So it's fair to say that your love of the sea and surfing have informed your desire to explore fluidity and movement?
LOH 100%. I've never been that great at the sport, but I enjoy the physical side and I'm always mesmerised by the beauty and movement of the sea. With a lot of my artwork it’s almost as if I've pressed pause half way through, which is something I wish I could do when riding a wave – press pause and take it all in.
Detail of 'Yearning' – three-colour screenprint (50 x 70cm)
LU You seem to be exploring painting and screen printing in quite a physical way too: whether you're dripping paint on a canvas, making lenticular pieces that require movement to animate their inner complexities, or pulling a squeegee across a screen… Are you inspired by the physicality of making?
LOH Yes, when I create my artwork I like to move around at the same speed as my mind; almost as if I'm trying to catch up with my brain. I work very fast, and I like to work on a few different things at the same time. As a result, my artwork is often quite energetic. Although, when I'm occasionally feeling a bit down, the textures in my work are softer and I'll opt for pastel colours, rather than fluorescents.
LU Your love of process is kind of infectious – it made me want to get back in a studio again! What do think it is about the silkscreen process that inspires you to keep pushing in different directions?
LOH That's great news! It's partly the noise of when I pull the squeegee back and forward, the smell of the inks, and also the grand reveal when you lift the screen from the paper. I always get nervous. I get excited when I mix up my colours beforehand though and I love seeing how a colour comes out when it's layered on top of another.
Risograph print exploring emotions and human behaviour
LU You showed me a fantastic lenticular piece when you visited the gallery – how did that came about? Are you always on the look out for new materials and approaches that might help you explore the full potential of your work?
LOH I've always been fascinated by lenticular printing, how it works and how an artist can make a moving image or a moving visual that away from a screen or computer. I used to have a colour changing lenticular ruler as a kid. It was great! When I started the process of making my lenticular print, I didn’t realise how complicated it was and it took weeks to make, but I learnt a lot and I definitely want to make more very soon...
LU You're involved in a few exhibitions over the next month or so, but what's next for you in the longer term: what are your goals for the next few years?
LOH I'm really excited about my first solo show (Yes, at The Square in Brighton – details below) which is all about positivity. At the minute I am preparing for that. Long term, I'd love to collaborate with brands, and maybe advertising, so my pattern work can be applied to products and campaigns. In the near future, I'd love to start painting more site specific murals around Brighton and London – I enjoy working on a huge scale too.
Exterior mural by Lois O'Hara
Lois O'Hara's first solo show, Yes, is open at The Square in Brighton from 29 September. Further information available here.
Lois also has new work in two upcoming London exhibitions. KLEPTOMANIA, a Sarah&James Arts production, is open 8–13 October at The Chalmers Bequest Gallery in Stoke Newington – more information here. The second, Show of Hands, is a YOUNG+IDLE (the socially conscious art collective) exhibition, which opens at the Victoria in Dalston on 12 October. Click here for more info.