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Camille Walala’s London playground is Memphis design in three dimensions

Before her new Villa Walala exhibit opened in London, Curbed talked to the muralist and designer about her own creative epiphany

Camille Walala playground for London Design Festival
Villa Walala, a playscape by artist Camille Walala that made its debut in the English capital’s Exchange Square last Saturday, takes inspiration from Memphis Design.
Photos by Andy Stagg

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in August 2017 and has been updated with photography of the project in situ.

In the midst of next month’s London Design Festival, the annual celebration of creativity in the English capital, a playground is angling to become a new city centerpiece.

Done up in Memphis-inspired prints that harken back the the heyday of the kinetic ’80s design movement, the installation, part of partnership with British Land real estate investment company, is being designed to create a sense of nostalgia and fun among the assembled design fans.

Known as Villa Walala, the playscape, which opened on Saturday, September 16, appears to turn the mental landscape of designer and muralist Camille Walala, known for her unique blend of color, pattern, and sequence, into a physical reality.

The maze-like playground look like a perfect blend of her ideas and inspirations, which she calls Tribal Pop. When Curbed caught up with her during a phone interview on her vacation, she was traveling in Mexico, having toured the colorful homes of Luis Barragan, and was on her way to New York City to see the new exhibit about Memphis founder Ettore Sottsass at the Met Breuer.

A view of Villa Walala, which has taken up residence in London’s Exchange Place.

Walala says that her design career wasn’t immediately apparent to her. Set to pursue a career in fashion and textiles, the French designer moved to London in her 20s, and after finishing school at the University of Brighton, spent time floating through the city’s art and music scene, working in the hospitality industry and figuring out her career path.

After establishing a studio in East London in 2009, she turned her unique visual style—an amalgam of Memphis, the op-art of Victor Vasserly, and the graphics of the South African Ndebele tribe—into a series of stores, installations, and urban landscapes across the globe, including attention-getting designs for the London club XOYO as well as the Dream Come True mural for Splice TV. She also done textile work, but as her career, and canvases, grow, she’s become more known for larger public displays. That doesn’t bother her one bit.

“If I’m going to do this the rest of my life, I better enjoy it,” she says of her search for an artistic outlet.

She was drawn to Memphis designs, and similarly energetic patters, when she was younger. Her father, also a designer, had books on the movement at her house in the South of France, and she remembers being drawn to the sense of optimism it conveyed.

“I found it to be more playful and less serious,” she says. “I think that’s what I’ve been trying to reproduce, that idea of design. I love it when people smile, and known that my work inspired them.”

While she’s being asked to cover and create more and more work after establishing herself in East London, Walala find that her gregarious patterns have slightly shifted. It’s not as much a change in medium as it is maturity. They’re becoming simpler and more direct over time. In many ways, it’s about understanding when her kinetic pieces are truly finished.

“You sometimes hear people say, ‘that’s easy, I can do that myself,’” Walala says. “But when I have people help me reproduce my designs, it’s really quite specific work. I’m always talked them through the thickness of the lines, the balance, and the colors. It’s more about experience. You have to know when to stop.”

A Walala installation on Old Street in London

The Villa Walala project has given the designer a new outlet, as well as a new process. Creating work that’s even more three-dimensional has required working more with designers and computer graphics programs, to overlay her work on the different shapes and surfaces. This piece, a wild maze of shapes and patterns, reflects what she calls her “inner child.”

Villa Walala, like her bold building designs, shows how she’s created a unique place with the worlds of art and placemaking. She sees her work as a form of street art, and believes that the public nature of her projects presents certain responsibilities.

“If you’re going to do something on the street, where people are sharing space the last thing you want to do is make things more miserable,” she says. “It’s great to make people smile. I love that idea of street art, to apply art to buildings to make it accessible to everyone.”

Villa Walala is up until Sunday, September 24.