Bold statements and bright colours are Lakwena Maciver’s artistic signature. The London-based artist believes in making art accessible and enjoyable and her Instagram-worthy mural The Power Of Girl in trendy East London proves her point. Inspired by mythology and a passion for adornment, Maciver’s work explores the visual implications of the human decorative instinct as a tool of communication. The urban environment sets the stage for popular culture to unfold its creative potential and the artistically polyglot Maciver is one attentive looker. I Remember Paradise is the artist’s latest show, which took her all the way to LA. We spoke with Lakwena about her creative process and current work.
I graduated in 2009 from the London College of Communication where I studied Graphic Media Design and Illustration. Although you'd assume this was quite commercial, the course ended up feeling a lot like a fine art course. We were set interesting briefs like designing a religion or documenting a space. Projects like that really opened up my mind and taught me to think conceptually. The course helped me to realize the importance of the concept behind work, beyond just making pretty pictures.
Back in 2013 I painted a mural in Miami that read "I Remember Paradise" and my most recent work has really come out of that. The series of paintings showcased at my latest exhibition in LA explores the same theme. It all revolves around the idea of myth and follows my interest in the representation of the idea of Paradise around the world. There is this globally recurring theme of Paradise in mythology and I wanted to explore and look at what that points to. This is what the pieces are about.
I do feel my art carries a social responsibility. The fact that a lot of my recent work has been paintings on walls in public spaces reflects that. What I like about outside murals is that the artist gets to speak to a larger audience. I recently looked back at my University dissertation which explores the idea of the artist as mythologist -an idea I respond to through my work. Both the size and the public setting allude to the creation of a dialogue with advertising, which is the only other thing out on the street on such a large scale.
Well, I don't think art should be elitist and the idea that only a small group of people would see my work doesn't excite me. It seems boring and narrow. That's why I'm so grateful for every opportunity to paint in a public space. On the other hand, I also like the gallery space. Just before the LA show I kept thinking that it's nice to be able to have complete control over a space. What's exciting about galleries is how clean and clear they are and how you can completely construct an environment. At the same time, despite a gallery’s infinite possibilities, you have to remember that art is never neutral and always has a context. So, even though the gallery might act as a white box, it's still located on a particular street, in a specific neighbourhood etc. In this particular case, the gallery happened to be in LA, the heart of the film industry. Hollywood is the home of cinema, where all those people who are telling stories that get sent all over the world are. It felt poetic that I was showing these pieces in the same city. I like to respond to what's happening around me and not make art in a bubble. I didn't intentionally set out in the beginning to respond to LA, but it seems like the connection slowly unfolded.
I'm not really sure, I just make my work and people can perceive it how they want. In terms of public and street art I feel like there are more opportunities over there. I also feel there's more genre-merging over there. The art scene in the UK is maybe more elitist and regimented, whereas in America things tend to move faster and it feels like there's more opportunity for working outside the establishment.
My relationship with Jesus is an ongoing inspiration for me. A big part of what I want to do is to reflect how I see him through my work, simply through things like my use of colour. Travelling is another source of inspiration. Aesthetically, I am really inspired by decoration and ornament - just ordinary people expressing themselves through the way they adorn their bodies and houses. I find it that really inspiring.
Ornament really excites me. I've always been inspired by lavish embellishment. Things like the gold-leafed illuminations monks used to make. I love using different materials and textures. I like to create dazzling imagery. Right now I'm really excited about sequins. I was originally inspired by the sequinned backdrop of the Freddie Mercury statue outside the Dominion Theatre on Tottenham Court Road. The sequins are blown by the wind creating a really dazzling light play. I really wanted to evoke that theatrical feeling so I've now begun to incorporate these sequins into my work. I generally love dressing up and playing with adornment and I find it fascinating that we do that as humans. I guess to me my art is an extension of that.
I think a lot of the creative process happens on a subconscious level. I’m just aesthetically drawn to certain things which seem to work together. In terms of developing the concept behind the work, it's also a very conscious process that comes through reading and writing. In the beginning it might seem detached from my artistic practice, but then I start to visually play and slowly the two things come together and it all begins to makes sense.
My father is Ugandan and my mother is English. l was born in London, lived in Ethiopia for a little while as a child and spent time in Kenya as a teenager. Though I spent most of my life in England rather than in Uganda, I've always been drawn to a Ugandan/African/'Black' aesthetic as some kind of way of forming and understanding my identity. It's something I consciously try to bring out in my work. I'm aware that a lot of the imagery we see is 'europeanised' and is created by Europeans for Europeans and it conveys a European idea of beauty and value. Through my work, I intend to portray and communicate a different idea of what is beautiful and valuable.
Yeah, there’s a lot of grey and maroon here. Maybe all the bright colours are just me yearning for sun!
I am collaborating with a big beauty brand and also making some work for a musician over the next few months. To me, making art really is a life-long process, so I just want to keep experimenting, keep playing.