Louis Masai: artist

30 Apr

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story.  Artist Louis Masai spent five intense days up a cherry picker spray painting parrots on Tilloch Street, N1 for the 2011 Cally Festival. His brief was to be “colourful” but the task didn’t just brighten up the area, it also led to Louis focusing on raising awareness of the world’s most critically endangered animals including birds and bees. Interview by Nicola Baird

Louis Masai: street artist. Credit:  Tanya Loretta Dee

Louis Masai: “If you paint outside people see it and think about it. That’s awesome.”                  Photo: Tanya Loretta Dee

“Painting the parrots on Tilloch Street made me want to do more raising awareness. If I paint outside a lot of people see what I’m doing. It makes painting a canvas seem insignificant. If you paint outside people see it and think about it. That’s awesome,” explains Louis Masai in the vast work space in Tottenham, which he shares with other creative businesses run by 20- and 30-somethings.

The studio has a creative rural feel, but the space is indisputably urban –through the walls there’s a rumbling as furniture is made in the next door warehouse.

Louis Masai's studio - can you see the spray paint in the taxidermy case?

Louis Masai’s studio – check out the spray can in the taxidermy case.

Family skill
Louis Masai is an artist – just like his dad and his mum, even his cousins are artists or potters.

I grew up liking art and hating writing. I liked stories, but I preferred art,” he says offering a mug of lemon and ginger tea. I only know two of his big works, both in Islington just off the Caledonian Road. Turns out both have a story. And both are often used as backdrops for people who then upload their own photos to tell their stories on social media.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Although Louis is known as a street artist, much of his city work disappears. “They get dogged and are a pain to fix,” he says. So far his work on Freeling and Tilloch Street, both no through roads leading to an estate, on the edge of Caledonian Road have survived. “I sometimes go past on the buses,” he says. “It’s interesting seeing them as I forget they’re there. Everything else I’ve done in London has gone.”


Tulloch Road

Louis Masai’s art was commissioned to remove negative vibes on a tatty no through road. It still livens up Tilloch Street, N1 for residents as well as passers-by on Caledonian Road.

Freeling Road features his beloved Boxer, Lola. “She was 12 and had cancer at the time. I couldn’t afford the operation she needed, so I did this piece and then made a stencil (like a screen print) and sold limited edition prints which helped to pay for it. Then my friend Anya Johnson, who was working on the Cally Festival in 2011 and 2012, said it would be cool to put something really colourful on Tilloch Street, so I painted the birds. It took five days: I’d turn up, paint until it was dark and then go home.

Those five days helped him meet many Islington locals.

“There were a lot of negative vibes on the street, that’s why they wanted a mural on this run down space, to make it nicer, and we got a bunch of artists to paint the shop shutters too. Young people were fighting while I painted. Some boys threw stones at me when I was balancing on the cherry picker. You train yourself not to jump back, but it’s hard if you’re hit by something. I said to their friends ‘if I fall from here I’ll die – and your friends will go to jail… so tell them to throw stuff at me when I’m lower down’.”

“Most people were really nice on Cally Road – they brought me food and drinks and chatted to me. I was quite touched. I’d never experienced that before anywhere. Even the young kids who’d started out as little shits were OK. If I go back to Cally, people recognise me.”

Louis wasn’t so impressed by the amount of requests to do stuff that were made but figures it’s part of people learning about art. “As soon as you’re outside painting people see you as a tradesman, not an artist. There was one guy who was adamant he was going to get me to do a mural in his house. He took out his mobile and showed me what he wanted me to do: it wasn’t an animal. In the end I told him I’d do it for £1,000 and he said ‘no’.

“Over the five days a lot of people asked if I could design a tattoo for them. I didn’t. If I need to make money I’d rather do something else, go work in a restaurant say. As soon as you start being a tradesman your art is damaged.”

From the sofa in Louis Masai’s live work unit you can see a sewing machine, bird boxes, witty bits of art and on the back wall Louis’ studio with its neatly stacked cans of spray paint.

From the sofa in Louis Masai’s live work unit you can see a sewing machine, bird boxes, witty bits of art and on the back wall Louis’ studio with its neatly stacked cans of spray paint.

Louis Masai’s tips for budding street artists

  • Don’t paint the side of your house. If you fuck it up you’ll be devaluing your property.
  • Don’t presume that because someone says you can’t paint that you can’t. There’s no right or wrong although there is good and bad art.
  • Learn to draw with a pencil. You need good hand and eye co-ordination before you spray paint. It’s like skateboarding. You have to learn to balance before you ollie or kick flip.
  • Keep trying.
  • Try different graffitti spray paints. I mostly use 94, it’s a brand that has got scents in it – can smell like bubblegum or sugar. Ironlak is 40p cheaper but it smells like someone’s puked over you.


Currently Louis is finding ways to make sure more Londoners know how threatened bees have become. He’s also planning a year long trip to South America with his girlfriend – photographer, Tanya Loretta Dee, this autumn (2014). “My dog Lola (sadly now dead) was my best friend, but one of the bad things about having a dog is you can’t leave and I love to travel. When I come back from South America I’m definitely getting another dog.”

Good luck to Louis – and do go and have a look at his amazing pictures on the Cally Road, any bus will take you past them. Just remember to look on the west side of the road.


The Cally Festival is a free annual event (8 September 2014), see http://thecallyfestival.com/  @TheCallyFest

Over to you

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z index of posts, or the A-Z of jobs to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. 

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right), @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

Thanks for stopping by. Nicola


2 Responses to “Louis Masai: artist”

  1. The Unbelievable Mr X May 9, 2014 at 10:27 pm #

    Thank you! I often pass by the Cally and, until now, wondered who had done it and what what the reason behind it. Yes, it’s nice to see that people respect the paintings and don’t ruin them.

    • nicola baird blogs May 14, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

      Glad you like this Mr X – One Love Louis is now down at Shoreditch creating a bee buzz (May 2014).

So, what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: