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Creating Art Through Adversity With Loretta Lizzio

Loretta Lizzio is a studio and street artist with work across the world. She’s painted walls in the UK, Canada and all across Australia, and she has had her work printed on clothing which sold with wild success worldwide.

She participates in street art festivals and gets her kicks from creating in all its forms. Not only has she created perfect art, but she’s a badass mum who’s created one life and has another in the works.

Image credit: Janaka Rodrigue.

Loretta Lizzio is absolutely killing it in life and in art, but she will be the first to tell you that it’s not all been smooth sailing. After a severe accident and the whirlwind life overhaul that comes with parenthood, Loretta has had to figure out, on multiple occasions, how to pick herself back up and push through to take her space and develop her art.

Earthy, honest, and playful, Loretta joined the Street Art Unearthed podcast to chat about her life; what it was like to grow up on a farm, how foreign takeout once was, and what it’s been like to rebuild after adversity.

Image credit: P1xels.

Check out the podcast with Loretta Lizzio, or read on for excerpts from the chat.

https://streetartunearthed.libsyn.com/14-creating-art-through-adversity-with-loretta-lizzio

Simple Life to City Life

The farm was in Queensland near Cairns. A little nook there at the base of the mountains, it is the most beautiful place on earth. I am so lucky to have grown up there. I just love it so much. I’m so glad that mum and dad still lived there so I can get to call it home and still go there. I mean, not since COVID but I used to go there a lot.

I went to school in Innisfail, which is much smaller than Cairns. Cairns is like a two and a half-hour drive from the farm, and that was a big city when we’d go to Cairns central shopping centre or whatever. But, yeah. No, it was a really good life. My school was quite small. Everyone just worked in a practical job growing up there; there were farmers or school teachers or like tradies that did a trade of some sort. It was a simple life. I loved it. I made all my clothes, all my school uniforms. It was like Mormon life. I never ate out.

I remember when I first did move away to the city. With my housemate, I was like, “What? You’re getting take out? What do you mean?” I didn’t even know there was like shake and bake pancakes and stuff. Everything just baffled me. I was like, “What is this thing wrapped in seaweed?” I’d never even had a kebab. Life was just so exciting when I first left.

Gentle Nudge Out of the Nest

I was in quite a happy bubble. And I didn’t know what I was missing, so I was like, “I’m happy now. Why are you making me leave, mum?” My mum is like Wonder Woman. She’s the most amazing person, and she’s travelled to every little nook and cranny of the world, so I think she knew what I needed to do. She was looking at me and going, “Oh, you poor thing. You’ve not experienced anything.” I’m glad that she kicked me out.

When I was 18, when I finished school, she actually signed me up to University to become an art teacher in school. I wasn’t aware that art was an avenue other than that I thought that that was like the best job you could possibly get in regards to being an artist of some sort. And so, yeah, she signed me up to University in Toowoomba, which is a pretty little town. Oh, I loved it.

I made a lot of friends, but then I dropped out because a big cyclone hit home on the farm, so I went home for six months to help on the farm. And I wasn’t loving uni anyway. It was really stifling my art, and I also didn’t have anything to bring to the table in that I had no life experience. And other kids that I went there with they’d come from cities, or they were older. And they had all these things that they were bringing up that I was like, “What are they talking about?”

I was just drawing pretty pictures, which was fine. I was working on my craft still, but I didn’t even know that there was a deeper layer to art. I was just saying, “This is my hobby.” I just do this for fun kind of thing. It wasn’t for me at that time. It was too early for me.

Discovering Artists and the Possibility of Art

I dropped out, went home for six months to the farm to help out and then I moved back to Brisbane to just chill. And then I moved to the Gold Coast when I was 24. And then that’s where I started working in a cafe and started meeting people that were coming in that were photographers or graphic designers and stuff. It was just, “‘Wow, who are these superheroes?” I thought they were just so cool.

The people I worked with at the cafe and stuff all dabbled in art in some way as well. And I was still just drawing for fun, but they started having art shows, and everything and I was like “Cool. Maybe I could have an art show.” I saved up and put on a show somewhere which… I had so many drawings that I’d just always done, so it wasn’t like now when you work towards a body of work. I already had that. I had hundreds of pictures. It was more so putting it together and organising it myself and hiring a space.

I had saved up so I could have it done really well. And I had it catered and had all my work framed and everything. And yeah, it went really well. I drove from one end, like pretty much Brisbane to Byron Bay, handing out flyers. Yeah. I was such a hustler back then. And yeah, well, it turned out because I think over half the show sold, mostly to friends and family.

I thought it was very poorly drawn and stuff, but it was my best work at the time. I think that that’s the first moment when you sell your first piece of artwork. It really helps instil in you like, “Oh, maybe I could do this.” You know? Yeah, that was probably my first turning point of trying to make something of it.

Building Foundations to Flourish

I had a mentor at the time, and he was a customer at the cafe who just became my mentor because every time he would come in, I’d have a million questions for him. And I think he could see that I was really hungry for it and driven. Like I had an immense drive, and all my spare time outside of work, I would be drawing and stuff.

He decided to help me out, and he put me on to a graphic design course at TAFE. I was doing that full time as well as working full time to pay for the course and pay for life and stuff because I was living by myself and whatnot.

I think that course went for two years full time and I started freelancing and just hustling for jobs, offering free work to a lot of surf companies and stuff. And then eventually, they started paying me a little bit, so that’s how I started freelancing. Yeah, I was freelancing for a few different companies by the time I graduated from that.

I was just always really scared to take that step into being a full-time artist. My parents and stuff, they were always just like, “When are you going to get a real job?” They never were ever very supportive of it. They’re amazing, but they just didn’t get it. They’re fine now. Now and they’re like, “Oh, yeah. No, you can support yourself.”

It took me a while as well to come around to the fact that this could be a full-time job. Not until I was about 30, I think, I always had a full-time job, and I would just fit in projects at night time, on days off, and wherever I could.

I never went to parties. I was never going out. My friends were doing things on the weekends, and I was never part of it. And it never bothered me either though, because I would always much rather be home drawing and creating something than getting wasted at a party.

Stumbling into Street Art

That kind of just happened after I moved to Melbourne. Things became a bit stagnant on the Gold Coast because it doesn’t have the best art scene here, if any really. I heard about this… I can’t even remember how. I think it was like through a friend of a friend of a friend. There was an art residency in Melbourne, so I accepted that, and I was meant to go to Melbourne for three months and be part of this residency. And I got there. Their whole residency was a complete flop, so poorly organised.

All I had was this suitcase of stuff that was meant to last me three months, and so I ended up pulling out of that residency, and then I had pretty much a day to decide what I was going to do. And I thought, “Oh, well, shit. I’m here now.” I found a place to rent, and I found a job in a cafe, and I just stayed.

I was in Melbourne for six years. I think it was about three years or so until I started getting into street art. Thanks, Juddy Roller! I don’t even know how, but I got this random email from them. I don’t even know how they found me or why they put me in there because I’d never painted a wall before. And they were like, “Hey, so you’re now part of Wall to Wall Festival. We’ve got this role for you.” And at the time, I was always like, “Yeah, I can do anything.” I was like, “Yeah, sold.”

I got there, and they had this massive wall. I’d never ever been on a boom lift before. They had this boom lift. And I had two days to do it in because I had to be back from another job somewhere.

It was the best. I think I was there for three days. Honestly, that festival that year, even though I was petrified and way out of it, it was probably one of the best three days I’ve ever had, just like being around all the other street artists who were just so lovely and so nice. And everyone stays in a house together, and we had a big dinner one night and just like it was all just so thrilling. And then that’s what got me hooked, and then I was pretty dedicated to getting better at it.

Building Wings on the Way Down

I knew I didn’t know how to get an image up that big and I’ve never used a boom before, so I was also worried about how smooth that was going to be and drawing up this image in sections. I’d never even done a paste-up before, so I decided to do this big paste-up of the main image, which was a bird, and then all the rest of it, which was like flowers and petals and a moon and stuff, I painted. Because that’s when you’re able to be quite loose with those. But you have to get the central figure right.

Image credit: Janaka Rodrigue.

I did the rest freehand, but I did this paste-up of this big bird which, poor Juddy Roller. I feel so bad. It came down. Like, it rained within that next few days. And because I didn’t do it properly, it all peeled off. I was so embarrassed for myself and for them that they even asked me to be part of it. I actually really liked the image if it stayed up and if I got to paint it properly.

I then went on to go in Wall to Wall Festival for the next two years running, so thanks, Sean and Juddy Roller for asking me there to do that tough one. They’re lovely.

Painting Through Life-Shattering Moments

It was at a crossing in Melbourne, on a main street. I was walking to the gym early in the morning, and a bus ran through a red light and just hit me. Who wakes up in the morning and thinks, “today I might get hit by a bus.” One second I was walking, the next second I woke up in a screaming ambulance.

I was in hospital for five weeks, and I had four surgeries, I think. Three. I had three surgeries, and yeah, I had to have speech therapy and everything because I had a bit of a brain injury, so I was trying hard to string sentences together and stuff. And I couldn’t work for a year, which was really hard. Because I had a seizure when it happened, I wasn’t able to drive or go anywhere. I was pretty much on house arrest even after I got out of hospital, for nearly five months. And I was on really terrible medication that I didn’t want to go outside anyway.

Honestly, I don’t know how anyone goes through anything like that and doesn’t have a passion or something like… Oh, I feel like I would have died without art. My parents flew into Melbourne, and they went to my apartment, and they got all my art stuff and brought it into the hospital for me. The nurses and staff would have their lunch breaks in my room because they’d be like, “What are you working on today?”

There was a shelf behind my head, and it was just full of all my paints and art supplies and books and everything. Actually, I had a solo art show; I think it was like eight months after the accident. I had created so many works in hospital and then pretty much in lockdown at home and couldn’t leave. I just sat there and drew nonstop.

The show didn’t really sell very well because it was all extremely dark work, especially because something like that was quite out of character for me. But when I look back on them, they just bring me so much happiness because it was honestly just getting the emotion out.

Rebuilding Confidence After Recovery

It was about for a year and a half after the accident. I met my partner Cam Scale who’s also an artist. He gets the whole art scene and how I was thinking and stuff like that. And because I hadn’t got out and done a job for even a client or anything like that in so long, he just really helped me to build up my confidence. And he pretty much forced me to do it, and I’m so thankful for that.

Yeah. It was tough love and he just really liked to help me. He kept working on me and kept giving me words of encouragement and everything. And he would draw with me and stuff like that so, yeah, it really helped a lot.

Adjusting to Art + Pregnancy

It was a bit of a shock really because I’ve always been one of those people that just dives into things and just gets it done. And so I just thought, “Cool, I’m having a baby, and I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing until I have the baby, and that’s fine.” And then I even thought, “After the baby, I’ll even do the same thing.” Boy was I wrong.

I was so sick in the first trimester. And I found out the day before I was due to go off to a Wall Festival and I couldn’t tell anyone so I couldn’t be drinking. I was extremely tired, so I was trying to do shorter days. And, again, luckily my partner Cam was there to help me lift things and get everything to and from the site.

I’d say physically it really took it out of me because you just can’t imagine how much your body changes and just pretty much becomes a complete stranger to you. And then, on top of that, your emotions. I was just so tired just for no good reason and couldn’t think straight. And baby brain is such a thing. Like, it is a real thing. If I didn’t write things down, it would just go all the way.

It was like I forgot how to paint as well. I don’t know what it was, but it was like I couldn’t even hold a paintbrush how I used to anymore.

And then not to mention work… Of course, you get these great jobs offered to you when you can’t do them and the wall’s just too big, and I just know that it’s right out of my depth right now and physically that there was no way I could do it. It was really heartbreaking to have to turn down jobs that I would have died for previously. I just wanted it so bad.

Disappointing Discrimination

Also, something we chatted about before this podcast, like, losing jobs just because I was pregnant.

I’d never experienced that before in the workplace until I was pregnant, and then it dawned on me like, “Oh my gosh.” Yeah, so I got some really great jobs offered to me. They were with companies that wanted to do a bit of a collab with my art and their brands and stuff like that and make films and stuff with your painting, but I was like, “Well, done.” Everything was pretty much locked in, and then I was like, “Oh, and you know I’m pregnant?”

Two, in particular, came around when I was on the early days, like three or four months pregnant, so I only had this like little pot belly. It just looked like I’d eaten too much. And one of them, they were like, “Can you get someone to take a video and walk around your body so that we can see just how big you are?” It wasn’t until months afterwards that I was like, “Why did I do that? I should have told them to get fucked.”

In some ways, I do get it. I get that companies, they have plans, they have a certain look that they’re after and stuff when they go into it, and it’s much harder to change. They’re not going to change all of that just for me. I do get it. I just feel like I don’t see pregnant people represented anywhere in real life other than maternity clothing and stuff like that.

Sacrifices and Rewards

I just feel like we’re expected to do the same job that everybody else is doing while keeping a low radar. And don’t complain too much about your sore back or whatever, because you’re lucky to be working here or something. I don’t know.

I’d say the hardest part mentally came after the baby because then you are actually completely wiped out physically, mentally, and in every possible way. And every inch, second of your time is taken up by this small human that completely relies on you to survive. I didn’t take to motherhood naturally. I wasn’t like this natural, graceful mother. I really struggled. And I think it was because I didn’t realise how much it would affect me and that art has always been my everything, my baby.

In the other major thing in my life, that accident, art got me through that. Anytime I’ve moved towns and everything, which has happened a lot in my life, I’ve moved around art. That’s been my one constant my entire life since the second I could make a mark on paper. Then, all of a sudden, I wasn’t able to do that. I wasn’t even able to draw for months and months. I couldn’t even think creatively. I couldn’t do any of that, and it was just really, really tough.

It’s all about that hard work down the drain. I don’t want to not sound grateful because I just absolutely adore being a mum to my daughter. She’s the greatest thing on earth. But I thought “I’m just a mum now. That’s it.” Which wasn’t enough for me. I really wanted to continue on in the arts and, yeah, I don’t know. I know it was hard too because my partner is an artist, so seeing him just continue on doing his thing and progressing. And I was like, “I’ll just be here.”

Best Partner in Life and Art

He is like the best dad in the world and the best artist. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have him, because he’s just so understanding and he’ll give me my time to shine whenever I need it. Or if he can tell when I’m taking it tough or something, he’ll knock back any job no matter how great it is so that I can have some time to do my thing. He’ll be like, “Oh, you haven’t got to work or done a job or something in months so, here, you take this.” I don’t know. He’s just… It is 50/50.

I was like, imagine if I had a partner that just goes to work Monday to Friday. I really would have had to pretty much give up my career in the arts for, at least, like six years or something. You know? So the kids are in school, and stuff like that and I can actually get back to spending time on it. But we’re so lucky to have the set up that we do, that we’re both artists and to some extent have this flexible schedule. I love our set up. We just have a perfect set up.

Creating Space to Create

It took a lot of mind training and a lot of frustrating days and nights to figure out how to be creative without that special time where you sit and you stew. Like I used to read a lot of poetry, and I’d listen to a lot of people sing and just sit down and have my morning coffee and get into the zone. It’s like now you’ve been up all night with a screaming kid. You get up, you’re trying to make them breakfast. They throw it in your face because they don’t like it. And this is only on a daycare day, if you’re lucky to have that.

She didn’t start daycare until she was like one and a bit. We now get three days a week where for six to seven hours in the middle of the day we can work, but there’s no time for that romancing. It’s, “All right, we’ve got seven hours. Let’s go. Start. Now.”

It’s about having those headphones and just trying put some music on while you work. And as you work, you warm up, and you try and get into a vibe. Then it’s like that thing knowing you’re in a time crunch and you can’t just slow it out and paint into the night or whatever. You’re constantly multi-tasking, and you just learn to be exhausted and work under the circumstances every day with no light at the end of the tunnel.

But then it’s all worth it because then our daughter smiles or talks sometimes or does all these amazing things and is becoming the most amazing person. And you just think, “Oh, to think people don’t do this.” It’s just the best thing in the world.

Wisdom for Future Artist Parents

I feel like it’s the mental preparation really… and starting to mentally prepare for declining those amazing jobs, and realising that you’re not Wonder Woman. You can’t do it all, and you have to take that time to rest. But it’s hard to do that beforehand because no book can prepare you for the reality of motherhood. You know? I thought I was ready, but I was not ready. It’s just about diving in, because I don’t think there really is a perfect time to go through that. It’s going to be hard no matter what, no matter when, so you just do it, and somehow you make it through it. And I think in some ways it does help with your art. I mean, I don’t surf now. I just get in.

I think it helps me not being so indecisive. You don’t have that time to stew things and like, “Oh, I’m just going to touch this up and touch that up. And should I or shouldn’t I do this.” It’s just like, “Just do it.” I think for me personally. I mean, some artists want that time, and their work is better with that. But for me, I think I definitely go into detail too much, and my work was too tight. And loose was something I wanted to work in, and now I’m forced into it.

I think it’s just about keeping on. I mean, I think the confidence thing is a huge thing that everyone goes through even without some kind of altering experience. Especially with social media now and seeing all these people kicking goals every day, it just makes your confidence even more shaken. I had to go off social media. Especially when I was pregnant, I was just like, “I can’t deal. All these people are kicking goals, and all I do is just sit at home with vomit on me.”

I think just creating your own space, not paying attention to those other things, so if doing something like going off social media helps then do that and continuing to just work at it and realise that it’s not a race. Do it for the love of it, and then you’ll get through it. Just create what you want in your own time and don’t do it with any expectations of anything coming from anything. Just do what you can from the heart. And I feel like then things just happen.

What’s Next for Loretta Lizzio

I did my last wall last week, which was really sad but exciting. That was just in Brisbane for a little restaurant. It was just a one-storey little wall I did on a ladder. I know I probably shouldn’t be on a ladder right now, but I was naughty. I’m now preparing for not being able to go out and paint walls and be away for days on end.

I did a lot of preparation into doing an underwater shoot about two months ago, which I did with two dancers. And, oh my God, were they beautiful underwater. It was the middle of winter, so we basically came out hypothermic. I’m not even joking. We couldn’t even talk. We were so cold, stiff, but we made it through. And they just look incredible standing underwater, and I’m so excited.

I’ve started three pieces from that shoot, so I really feel like I’m just warming up. And the ideas that I have, if they can come out like that look in my mind, I’m so excited that they’re going to just look stunning. And I really want to work, so I think in about six months time — obviously, because bub will come in that time, otherwise I’d be doing it tomorrow –, I am going to do some film underwater as well. I want to work on like a creative video series as well as the pieces and the paintings and stuff.

Yeah, that’s what I’m excited about at the moment. I think that this time around I’ve realised that I just need to prepare so I’ve got everything planned, so if I do get the few hours or something here and there… I’m lucky I’ve set it up purposely so that I have a home studio and everything so I can step into the next room, get those hours in, have that release and then come back.

Written with excerpts from the Street Art Unearthed podcast with Loretta Lizzio.

Be sure to follow Loretta Lizzio on Instagram, and check out her website for beautiful video imagery and an archive of her work.

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