UTS’ New Penny Lane Mural: In Conversation with OX
Photography: Lily Cameron
OX [aka OX King] is a UK born artist working in Sydney. He specialises in street art and is known for creating eye-catching walls that use bold colours and strong imagery. OX is the artist behind creating the huge, breath-taking mural that now spans across Penny Lane between UTS Building 10 and 11. We sat down with OX to talk about his project at UTS, his artistic style, and what lies ahead.
How did you get the UTS gig?
UTS asked me to apply, it was an open application. But it was a paid application, which is quite nice. So, they paid me to develop a concept. And they actually referenced one of my older walls as something that they might like, so I was like, “Oh, there’s probably a good chance that I could get this.” And then other artists applied and then they ended up choosing my design, which was great.
It was supposed to be done in February but then it was delayed because the wall was designed based on students’ feedback of what they wanted, which was greenery. So then, the heads of UTS got involved because they wanted it to reflect more of the technological part of the university. I went back and forth to get it right over about six months. I did five redesigns. They got back to me and said, “We want to do your original design, with a few changes.” I added in Pepper, the robot that was designed in UTS.
That’s very cool. I’m sure it’s been super tiring, but have you enjoyed the process overall?
Yeah, I have. There’s been parts that have been super stressful; mainly organizing other people, making sure people get there, and everyone is safe. But it’s been really nice because I’ve never worked on a wall for this long, so it’s been nice having a place to go to work.
Like a regular nine to five?
Yeah, exactly, right? It’s been stressful, but there are times where I’m like, “Oh, this is my job, this is really cool, that I’m able to just paint this massive thing all day”.
Where did you get the inspiration for this piece in Penny Lane?
So originally the first concept had a portrait on the main wall. I’m very inspired by scientific botanical illustrations, so I wanted to do something that reflects study, learning, and the union of science and nature. Originally, I had a portrait of a female botanist on the main wall because they were some of the first women in science in Australia. It was a very male-dominated area. But since scientists needed people who could paint really well and women scientists were already painters, they became the first people indoctrinated into the scientific community. So, instead I did Australian animals, and they keep them around the foreign fauna. That’s kind of what it’s supposed to be about.
Would you like to continue to do large-scale projects like this moving forward?
Yeah, I think so. I think it’s kind of my wheelhouse. It’s kind of what sells my work in a lot of ways. The fact that I can do something that’s 400 square meters kind of defines how I work. I’m going straight to Liverpool after this to do a 200 square meter car park. That project is under contract as well, so everything has to go right, and I’m just doing this juggling act of making sure everything happens on time.
What are your artistic influences in your work?
I’m inspired by other artists a lot. I’ve always been in love with a lot of European big-scale artists. Going big has always been one of my aspirations. Other artists inspire me to keep going. I’m super afraid of heights as well, but I’ve managed to choose a job that requires me to be on huge cranes. It’s weird because at the beginning of the day, I’m terrified, but by the end of the day, I’m totally fine with it. The scaffold [in Penny Lane] was about a meter away from the wall, so right at the top, I’m just spending all day completely terrified. It’s draining. There’s something about painting big-scale walls that I want to do and I guess that challenges me in a few ways. Mainly artistically, but also because of my fear of heights.
How would you describe your artistic style?
I have a very clean graphical style, almost cartoony. But I like to portray realistic scale. I do a lot of portraits normally, so I like to keep the scale realistic, but then reinterpret them in a sort of flat-plane, very graphical style. I like to focus a lot on color schemes as well. That’s almost the first step, even before content a lot of the time. I work out a background color, then three opposing colors and work out an interesting scheme.
What colors are you most drawn to?
I actively don’t use them anymore, but I used to do a lot of saturated blues and super vibrant pinks. It was avery 80s vibe. I still fall back on blues a lot. I go through my Instagram, and I’m like, “blue with pink, blue with pink, blue with pink”. I’m actively trying to do different things. For example, this piece at UTS is very green, and I usually hate green because it’s very hard to pair colours with, so I stay away from it. I thought I should probably do something green, to try and challenge myself.
Do you prefer working in the street or in the studio?
It depends, I go through phases. When I do a job like this, then I’m out for a long time. By the time I’m done with it, I just want to be at home. Whereas, at the beginning of this year, I didn’t have much street work to do, so I was in my home studio for three months, and I just started going a bit crazy. I think I generally need a balance of both.
Do you have a favorite wall you’ve ever done?
I think the best wall I ever did was in Newtown, in the car park of the IGA on King Street. I worked with the community, and Newtown Council, as it was portraying a woman that died in the area in the 1700s that’s in the graveyard close by, who was left at the altar. Charles Dickens was in Australia at the time, and she’s supposed to be the inspiration for Miss Havisham, from Great Expectations. She was a crazy old cat lady, so I got to put lots of cats in.
Another favorite was one I did for RPA Hospital, which is anatomy, which I don’t really do very much, because I think it’s quite challenging. It’s half sculpture and half human internal organs. Which I think was really cool, but a lot of people were like, “Ew, that’s gruesome!” But, I did that completely blind as the scaffold was completely covered so I couldn’t see the wall from the ground when I was painting it. So, I had to do the entire thing, just trusting that the scale was right. I finished it, then they took down the scaffolding, and I got to see it for the first time.
If you could paint any wall in the world what would it be? Do you have a dream project?
There’s a lot of stuff I would love to do. One of the things that I’m most impressed by, are these Australian artists who painted a wall in Hong Kong. It was a skyscraper that they abseiled down the side of. It’s just the most amazing thing. Mostly just because of the act of doing it. I would never do that, I’m way too scared of heights but I just thought that was kind of amazing. So I wouldn’t do anything as extreme as that, but I’d at least like to tackle something very big.
To check out more of OX King’s work head to: @theoxking on Instagram and his website here. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.