Lakwena Maciver's blue-sky moment came when she was 19 years old, outside a church in Brazil. The artist, who grew up in South London, was on her gap year—high school over, university pending—and she was in South America to spend time with friends. "I was asked to paint a wall," she says—a church wall, specifically, which was bigger than she realized. "Huge!" she laughs. "It took me ages."
She covered the surface in vibrant color and the words of a psalm, in Portuguese. When she finished, she says, "something just clicked, and I realized that this was what I wanted to do: paint walls."
And that is essentially what she has done ever since. Now 29, Maciver has painted walls in London, Vienna, Miami, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. "Painting outdoors, instead of within the confines of a gallery, just seems so much more liberating," she says in her London studio. "It's accessible not just to me but to everyone, especially when you consider that hardly anyone goes to galleries, but everybody walks past walls."
Maciver's art is big and bold and bright, blazing with primary colors and overlaid with words and slogans: "Just passing through" and "Wake me up"; "I repeat" and "Imagine eternity." Some are inspired by the philosophy of Roland Barthes; others—"Everafter, Karibu"—are random words she makes pretty. "I've always loved graphics, and I've always loved trying to make words look geometrically beautiful," she says.
She was born in London to a Ugandan father and an English mother. She attended a prestigious private girls' school on a scholarship, but wasn't happy there. "I hated the ethos. It was all about being in the top 2 percent, better than others. Where was the joy, the integrity?"
And so she gravitated toward making art. After obtaining a degree in graphic design, she knew that she would never be able to work in an office when she could be out in the world, painting walls instead. Some walls have become permanent fixtures, while others have long since painted over, and her images have been used by leading brands. For Diesel, she made a series of signs for a Ghanaian-inspired "chop shop"; she illustrated a campaign for Converse; for Red Bull, she painted two large murals. She is currently working on a collaboration with makeup brand Clinique.
"I've been welcomed into the world of street art, and I'm grateful for that because I like the concept—people staking their claim on the environment—but I'm not a graffiti artist, no," she says. "That's illegal, isn't it?"
See more of Maciver's work at lakwena.com.