The Dizzying Heights Of Adelaide Street Artist Lisa King

As the 2017 Wonder Walls Festival kicks off in Port Adelaide with a female-artist heavy lineup, Fritz buckled up the safety harness to catch up with Adelaide’s large-scale mural and street artist, Lisa King.

It’s hard to miss Lisa King’s work dotting the city and outer suburban landscape. Hyper feminine figures giving you the side eye, engrossed with birds and the bees on Park Terrace. David Bowie’s heterochromatic eyes boring into you mid traffic jam on Payneham Road. The steely gaze of the Majestic Minima on Melbourne Street.

Lisa’s style blends cultural iconography, fashion photography and Renaissance symbolism with a heavy realism. A self-taught artist starting out in graphic design and illustration, Lisa works in an array of mediums – but it’s the large-scale murals that take your breath away.

“Adelaide is a super-supportive environment to start out and grow as an artist. Absolutely. I could only do my Walls of Wonderment project here because I have South Australian support – I couldn’t do it anywhere else.”

We catch up with Lisa seven stories high in the boom lift as she works on her latest mural in Bowden, the first of a series of murals for her Walls of Wonderment (WOW) project (more on that later). The boom lift judders along at unnatural angles, vibrating as it overlooks building sites and a busy Park Terrace below. Yet Lisa is a natural – in her element, in the elements.

“It’s a very meditative space,” she says. “There’s a freedom in it which is addictive and unexplainable. You’re in public and being so vulnerable, but having so much solitude and being alone with your canvas is completely magical and you can’t experience that every day.”

She takes a relaxed sailors stance, lithe limbs minutely adjusting to the ever-gusting wind as she sprays, pauses, considers, picks up a paintbrush and dabs and daubs. It’s oddly hypnotic, watching this transformation from ugly and unadorned to beautiful and thought provoking. Just don’t look down.

Lisa’s an Adelaide girl through and through and says the support network available to artists in Adelaide is unique.

“Adelaide is a super-supportive environment to start out and grow as an artist. Absolutely. I could only do my Walls of Wonderment project here because I have South Australian support – I couldn’t do it anywhere else.”

WOW is a large-scale mural project that Lisa conceptualised and crowdfunded, and will see her painting a total of six walls. It’s the first project of its kind in Adelaide by a female street artist and, to that scale, the first independently managed by a female street artist in Australia. Ambitious.

Top: Noarlunga. Middle: Hindley Street. Bottom: Glenelg.

Back on the ground, over a green tea at Jarmer’s Kitchen, Lisa says she is awed at the level of South Australian support she received.

“It was totally overwhelming. It took me days to process. Bar a handful of pledges, they were all South Australian individuals and business.”

As well as individuals, some big names in the Adelaide arts and culture scene, government and council have been vocal in their support.

“I’ve had so much support for my Walls of Wonderment project. Nick Mitzevich, director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Heather Croall from Adelaide Fringe Festival has been an incredible support. Jane Vergou from the Onkaparinga Council has been an absolute force of nature. Beautiful Bizarre both personally and professionally and Renewal SA, just to name a few.”

Adelaide is home, work and play but attacks of restlessness often occur.

“I love Adelaide but I can get really itchy feet here. If I can travel for work and live in Adelaide, I’ll be really set. It’s very affordable to create work and I can buy materials cheaper here. I think that it would be detrimental to my career if I just upped and moved to another city. In five years time, I want to be showing in New York, but home is here.”

Talk turns to the street art scene in Adelaide, and the pros and cons of being one of the few female large-scale street artists in Australia.

“Scenes can be hard to fit into. I have found it quite hard at times working with men in the street art industry. I guess when you have a male-orientated industry that is very masculine – it is after all a grassroots system that was derived from males – you’re going to come up against obstacles as a female.”

She pauses to think over her tea.

“There were always female graffers [graffiti artists] but it has been hard having a different gender in that industry. You know, being sensitive and emotional and outspoken. I think me being outspoken and not really putting up with anything that I think is wrong has been a bit of a point that, I think has been not too well received.”

She shrugs.

Full disclosure: Lisa and I have been friends for over a decade. I’ve watched her grow and hustle, struggle, f*ck up and put her foot into it time and time again. We disagree on her actions constantly; sometimes she listens to my advice, sometimes she flings it out the window and posts the diatribe on social media regardless of the consequences. It’s a powerful and endearing quality that can be polarising.

“I have had some run-ins with a few different males and I do find that it can be a bit… not vindictive exactly, but very egotistically driven. I guess women don’t necessarily have that so much. So it is a bit, working against the grain,” Lisa says.

“All of the women I’ve worked with have been amazing, so supportive and enthusiastic. But I’m painting a bleak picture of the men, aren’t I? I think it just gets too competitive for my liking. That it is especially highlighted in smaller towns and we have lots of different leaders in the game in Adelaide, lots of people who have worked at their craft for a long time. It can be a fickle industry.”

As Lisa prepares to go back to the brushes, she muses over the best part of her job.

“Actually the best thing was at a recent job in Noarlunga, this old man came up to me, practically crying. He was about 80 and he said ‘Thank you for making my daily route more beautiful, and for making this area more exciting for us retired people. It can be a really troubling area’.

“And it can; I was there for a month and I experienced some of that. That older gent, when he was looking at me and telling me that, it was a defining moment.”

Not everyone gets to experience that kind of emotion in their day job. It must be rewarding?

“Having that feeling that you are affecting someone to the point you can make them cry and smile and bring them joy is pretty f*cking cool.”

Lisa is starting her next wall for WOW in a month, this time in the CBD. There is an enormous nine-storey wall on the cards, and a prominent building will be announced at a later date. Walls of Wonderment project continues throughout this year, follow her progress here.

Get down to Port Adelaide this weekend to catch the Wonderwalls Festival featuring the homegrown talent of Vans the Omega and Australian and international feature artists – but if you can’t make it, the art will remain for you to check out in your own time.

Love or hate the street art in Adelaide? Got a favourite work? Let us know in the comments, below.

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