No longer confined to the back streets of grungy inner-city suburbs, graffiti has really started to make its mark on Australia’s urban landscape. Among the artists who create these modern monoliths is Kiama-local Claire Foxton. Claire is one of a number of Aussie artists taking part in Wonderwalls, a festival of street art hitting the walls of Wollongong this month. I had the privilege of getting to know what makes this talented muralist tick.
Firstly, graffiti or street art – is there a difference and what do you call your work?
I go between mural art and public art. I don’t feel I’ve earned the right to call myself a street artist because I came into this comparatively late and I don’t have the traditional graffiti background that a lot of artists do. After finishing a double major in visual arts and graphic design, I’m still a graphic designer by trade. After I was given the opportunity to do a mural at the start of 2016 and I haven’t looked back since!
You seem to use a lot of blue tones in your work – where does that come from?
I think it was probably inspired after a trip to Chefchaouen in Morocco (known as the Blue City). It’s such a vibrant city and absolutely everything is painted in different shades of blue. I think when I came back from that trip I started to do drawings and use those colours. I was asked to do a mural and I had to produce a concept in half a day. Blue was my first choice for that piece.
When I started I didn’t feel confident doing full-colour renders of realism, so restricting my colour palette made it easier for myself, especially given the short time frames you have to produce mural art. So then I used blue for the next one, and it kind of became a thing. It wasn’t a conscious decision to have a brand or a signature but it certainly helps if you’re trying to forge a career. People keep calling it my blue period like Picasso!
You’re often asked to do work in towns and cities that you’ve never been to before – how do you find subjects to paint in an unfamiliar place?
I like to do a lot of research before I get there. It involves talking to people on the ground and doing internet research. And then once I find someone I think will be right for the piece I spend time with them and their families, getting to understand more about their lives.
Have you ever had anyone say no?
Most of the time when I tell someone I’d like to paint a gigantic version of them on a wall I just get silence. I think people don’t want to say no! Then they realise how big a deal it is. I’ve had no-one back out. Probably because it’s something so different and wouldn’t normally happen in an average person’s lifetime.
I did have one lady who was quite shy and timid. But she adored the process and the design and her whole family came on-board. It was wonderful to see someone so modest about her achievement receive recognition about her work in the community.
Your work is so public, but so is the creative process. What is it like painting outside where anyone can watch you work?
At first the painting in public part was the most daunting. When you work in a studio no-one is judging your work while it’s in progress. But with mural art you can’t hide. You just have to embrace everyone’s comments as you go.
In the first 3-4 days of painting the piece, it doesn’t really look like anything. But I enjoy talking to people who come to see the work while it’s in progress. People are really engaged with it; I tell them about who I’m painting and why. They always come back to see the finished product.
Claire Foxton will be painting her next stunning creation on the streets of Wollongong as part of the Wonderwalls Festival, running from November 24-26. For more information about where you can see all the pieces, click here.