Personal Growth

Disruptive DNA: Kiwi flies high

July 2016

Hayley King is an Auckland-based artist making her mark on the buildings and alleyways of the world. Known professionally as 'Flox', King paints beautiful scenes on urban streetscapes, bringing fine art to drab city spaces.

Her colourful murals of flowers, flying birds and native animals leap from walls with their realism and vibrancy.

It's art on a grand scale, using delicate hand-cut stencils and spray paint.

Decked out in paint-spattered overalls, a mask and sneakers, 37-year-old King doesn't look like your typical entrepreneur. Her business nous, drive and pursuit of excellence have helped her turn her art skills into a successful commercial business.

Since launching her brand Flox Designs Ltd in 2005 – named for the flocks of birds that often appear in her art – King has been in demand.

Her art has graced the walls of many New Zealand public buildings, including Auckland's Britomart Car Park and a Gordon Harris art shop in Auckland. In Christchurch, she's transformed a six-metre high wall on Welles Street, now crawling with tuatara lizards, native birds and foliage. In Hamilton, a two storey garden-inspired mural has transformed a dingy alleyway behind the public library.

King is also in demand with interior designers and trend-setters, spray painting her nature-inspired art on kitchen splashbacks and the walls of chic cafes, restaurants and designer homes.

Although her art is often large in size, it is the intricate stencil-work that sets Flox's work apart. King calls her scalpel “an extension of my arm" and uses it to hand-cut designs into construction card. The process can be very technical and time consuming.

Hand cutting is key to King's philosophy – she is a champion of the handcrafted artisan aesthetic, favouring that over mass-produced and automated work.  “There is so much mass consumption and use of technology," says King. “A lot of artists are rebelling against that and creating art straight from the human hand."

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Hand cut stencil of tiger

King grew up in Northland, at the top of New Zealand's North Island. It's a picturesque region, of white beaches, blue sea and native bush, and many of these images inform King's art.

A former world-ranking squash player, King quit the sport at 21 to go to art school. “Squash was all-consuming, and I thought, do I want to do this for the rest of my life? Do I want to put all my eggs in one basket?"

After graduating from Auckland's Unitech in 2003 with a Bachelor of Design (majoring in painting) King began exploring spray paint as a medium.

She then had the opportunity to do a six-week business course, which taught her, among other things, how to write a business plan. “It was one of the best decisions I ever made," says King. “I knew I wanted to have a career as a creative person, and I wanted to work out how I could do that and make money."

She began to do more street art, and got noticed, picking up business. “Ten years ago there were a lot of hoardings and construction sites with blank walls and no one was using them, so I would go and do art there," says King. “People on the street would approach me and ask me about my art – everyone from little old ladies to business people. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive."

Commissioned projects followed, and her customers included city councils, advertising agencies and businesses. She was asked to design gift packs for Air New Zealand and a t-shirt for Greenpeace. She has designed her own t-shirts, and sells a Flox stationary range, including gift cards, calendars and journals.

She says entrepreneurs should be flexible, willing to take risks - and not confine themselves to one path. They have to back themselves. “There are no barriers – you can be a visual artist and a fashion designer too; you can create art in the street and in the studio."

“There are no barriers – you can be a visual artist and a fashion designer too”

One of King's most exciting and challenging projects is been live painting – creating art in front of an audience.

In 2011, after designing an album cover for musical collective Fly My Pretties, King appeared on stage at concerts in Christchurch, Dunedin, Auckland and Melbourne, creating art alongside the music. In 2013, after designing a wine label for Cloudy Bay, she was flown to New York and Los Angles for live painting sessions at the winery's launch parties.

In 2015 King was asked to be an artist in residence at the Taipei Artist Village in Taiwan for three months, run in conjunction with Asia New Zealand Foundation and CreativeNZ. While there, she did live painting sessions at different locations, drawing attention to environmental issues including the efforts around the balance between conservation and economic development of the country.

Several Taiwanese native species featured in her art. “The Formosan Sika Deer and Black Bear are two of the national treasures I featured," says King. “I emphasised their worth by crowning them with local orchids and adorning them with traditional Taiwanese tattoos: a mark of respect."

Working outdoors in the heat and humidity was a challenge. “Taiwan was a journey and a really big eye-opener. It pushed me out of my comfort zone," says King, who was inspired by the experience and the Taiwanese people she met. “I could have gone there and spent the whole time indoors creating art – but I went out and made art on the street, and interacted with the people, and it was a really rewarding experience."

King says creating art in public spaces and city streets can make it more accessible. “People often find it harrowing to walk into a gallery; it can seem snobbish and intimidating," says King.

On top of running her business and travelling to do art, King enjoys spending time with sons Bo, 9 and Indiana, 2, and partner Gareth Moon.

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She is careful to balance work, family and down-time. “I'm an early bird so I get up early and start working early," says King. “I don't work at night because of my family. I finish my day around 3pm. I say 'no' to a lot of things now – if I take on a job it needs to be something I am passionate about."

At her Auckland studio, Haus of Flox, King is supported by a staff of seven, most of them part-timers. Technician Linda Watson, helps King paint on many of the larger projects and also manages the showroom. “I couldn't do half the stuff I do without her – she is an important cog in the wheel and frees me up to focus on the art and private commissions," says King.

She advises budding entrepreneurs to take on every opportunity offered. “Network, especially at the beginning," says King. “Go to events and put yourself out there. In the beginning I never said 'no' to anything. Now I can say 'no' a lot and I can be picky about the projects I do."

Collaborating with others helps to inspire Flox. She has done two shows with mentor and friend, contemporary New Zealand artist Michel Tuffery. They travel New Zealand giving art workshops. “We are all about passing on knowledge; our kaupapa [philosophy] is to share," says King. “When you get to a certain point as an artist you find that some people like to keep their tricks to themselves, but for us, it's all about sharing."

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"The more I succeed the more I'm fuelled to do better"

Although she has no regrets about the path she has taken, King says she sometimes wonders where she would be today if she'd stayed with squash. It's a sport she started playing at 10, and by the time she was 21 she was number four in New Zealand, and ranked 42nd in the world. “I was on the brink of turning professional," says King. “My experience playing squash shaped my personality and helped carve out who I am now. Squash gave me that drive to succeed and it's probably part of my personality I bring to my business, to do an even better job on my next project."

She doesn't want to sit still, or be complacent. “The more I succeed the more I'm fuelled to do better. It's a momentum thing. I am always striving to find new ways of looking at things. I want to always evolve. As an artist my last piece is my best piece, and I hope to do better with my next," says King.

“It's the projects that I get nervous over that are the most rewarding. I get scared but I know if I can pull it off, it'll be frigging awesome."

 

Writer: Kate Monahan

Photographer: Peter Drury & supplied images from Hayley King