Flox Bird Murals Make Walls at Car Park Sing

Auckland artist Hayley King has sometimes been described as a ‘graffiti artist’ – a label that is probably inevitable, given her preferred medium and the location of some of her highest-profile work. The 32-year-old works mostly in spray paint and has made a name for herself creating brilliant large-scale works on exterior walls and hoardings.

But the delicacy and technical precision of her intricate stencil-based work, along with the wide variety of places her work appears, tend to defy the street-artist categorisation. Her work appears in upmarket bars, in suburban kitchens, on clothing from her own fashion label – even on coffins.

One of her most recent commissions has been the murals on the core lift structure at Britomart Car Park. Each level of the building features a different New Zealand bird and its associated fauna – a job that she counts as her personal career highlight to date.

“The Britomart Car Park job, by a mile!” says Hayley. “It was a massive job for one person – 16 murals, two on each level. It’s the biggest job I’ve ever done and it wasn’t even as part of a collective. It was definitely something I could sitback afterwards and think, wow, I can be proud of that.”

The brief was to beautify the car park and help create a sense of security for visitors. The murals also have a more utilitarian purpose: helping drivers remember what level of the building they’ve parked on. The names of the birds are roughly alliterative with the level number: grey warbler on ground, weka on one, takahe on two and so on.

Birds of a feather

When approached about the car park commission, Hayley jumped at the idea of contributing something significant to the Britomart precinct.

“Oh my God, I’m loving Britomart so much!” she says. “I’ve done a few jobs down there and it’s quite an honour to be part of this amazing new location. Finally we have this great new area with new restaurants and bars, finally there’s something happening here in Auckland. It’s really awesome to be part of it.” Other commissions she has completed in the precinct include the DJ booth at Britomart

Country Club and a recent live mural event at a Cloudy Bay wine launch.

After graduating in 2003 with a Bachelor of Designat Unitech, Hayley did a business course which honed her commercial instincts and focused the possibilities of her art as a marketable brand. She came up with her working alias ‘Flox’, derived from her passion for birds, which recur throughout her work.

“My brand began to form a particular look and I just rolled with it. It sort of tied in with the whole Kiwiana thing too – we’re quite a birdy nation.” She has always been inspired by the decorative arts, including the late-Victorian Art and

Crafts movement and turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau period. She found that birds were a great vehicle for playing around with the decorative ideas that interested her.

“I grew up in the Far North and we were always at the beach and in the bush. My Dad was an art teacher and he used to take us down to the beach to look at shells and seaweed and stuff and taught us life drawing. So those sort of nature influences were always there.”

Other key influences in her work include contemporary New Zealand artists Shane Cotton and Bill Hammond, whose works are also frequently populated with birds.

Making the cut

It was after graduation that Hayley first began experimenting with paintbrush and stencils. Then one day she picked up a spray can and never looked back. In 2006 she co-founded street art group Cut Collective, whose members were also passionate practitioners of the stencil-and-spray-paint medium. As well as large-scale street projects, the group collaborated on graphic design jobs.

Today almost all Hayley’s work is based on stencilling, giving her work its distinctive patterning. She likes spray paint because it allows her to work quickly, covering large areas in rapid-drying layers, and because of its durability of finish. As well as giving her work depth and vibrancy, it gives it a ‘street’ edge that sees her work in demand from clients ranging from city councils to restaurateurs.

To create a work, she hand-draws, scans or Photoshops a base image, which she then scales up via projection technology onto a work surface. The projected image becomes the basis for a line drawing, which she uses as a rudimentary guide for cutting the stencils. For Hayley, stencil-cutting tends to be a fluid and intuitive process, making up the detail as she cuts.

When it comes to the painting stage, she builds the work up in layers. She might ‘ghost’ a light form of the main image – the bird, for example – as a placeholder while she layers up background elements like landscape, foliage and flowers. She works from dark to light, large areas to small areas, finishing with highlights and details. The last stage is returning the stencil on top for the defining line work.

Blurring the boundaries

Other career highlights for Hayley include the massive mural on Cross Street in Newton; a collaboration with fellow artist Shane Hansen on atea towel and tumbler Christmas gift set for Air New Zealand’s 10,000 staff; and her ongoing work with Return to Sender eco-coffin designer Greg Holdsworth.

“In my work I’m blurring the lines between gallery art, or high art, and working commercially,” says Hayley. “It’s a constant juggle to find the balance between maintaining credibility as an artist and making a living from it. I’m always striving to achieve both – but I believe it’s possible.”

Today her limited-edition fine art prints are sold through design stores and galleries. She’s also in the process of reinventing her own Flox fashion label, and is much in demand for interior and exterior murals and live painting events.

When we caught up with her, she was in the middle of a national tour with musical collective Fly My Pretties. As well as designing the visuals and marketing material for the show, Hayley appears onstage for each gig as part of an ambitious visual show. To illustrate the 16 tracks from the collective’s new album she has also created a series of limited-edition prints, which have been flying off the theatre foyer shelves.

“My whole philosphy is not being restrictive about the type of art I do,” she says. “I’m always keeping the doors open!”