Dirty auld town done up

Dublin’s street art scene allows for both artistic and political expression. Freda Hughes meets two of the scene’s most prominent exponents and discusses their work.

The morning after a night out, despite the driving rain, strong winds and hangover I was nursing, I found myself up early and heading off to find Suir Bridge in Kilmainham. The purpose of my expedition was to photograph a piece of street artist ADW’s work. After finding the piece, I was saddened, but not surprised, to find half of it had been painted over by Dublin City Council.

Nevertheless, the journey was worthwhile and I continued on my way into town taking photos of stencils, paste ups, stickers, murals and tags.

This was not an unusual morning for me. I’ve been photographing street art for about four years. Since I was very young, graffiti and street art have always caught my eye. When travelling, the art on the streets always leaves a more lasting impression of that city on me than the more obvious tourist attractions. London’s diverse styles and vast array of techniques mirrors the heterogeneity of the city while Krakow’s propensity for anti-fascist stencils highlights a deeper sociopolitical problem. In Palestine, Israel’s illegal wall has been transformed into the world’s largest canvas by artists such as Swoon, Ron English, Banksy and Blu, as well as ordinary people determined to express themselves.

For this article I interviewed two very different contributors to Dublin’s street art scene: ADW the street artist responsible for well known pieces such as the Cowen/ Lenihan Blues Brothers and the Bertie Celtic Tiger, and TEXT a young graffiti artist who creates colourful murals around the city and worked on the ‘They Are Us’ project with Maser. I wanted to provide a cross-section of the motivations behind much of the illegal art that brightens up our city, and which forms a part of a rich scene that is yet in its infancy.
For me, it is the street art and graffiti I see around Dublin and its suburbs that make the monotony of daily life bearable. They immediately reveal a subculture, bravery and sense of purpose beyond the organised structures of our society.

Many of these pieces are created under pressure and with fear of arrest, and often only last a few days or even hours before being removed by authorities, or altered by other artists. This interplay between the artist and the city fascinates me as does the artists’ acceptance of the transient nature and public ownership of their art.

That Dublin has seen, in the last decade, a rapid increase in privatised space being sold off for advertising, with a resulting disappearance of public space, while during the same period there has been an increase in non-commissioned street art and graffiti is itself an interesting piece of non-verbal social commentary. That’s enough of my armchair analysis; let’s see what the artists think.

What made you want to start painting?

TEXT: What inspired me was a piece painted on three stories at the top of an apartment block in Dublin’s inner city. It really astounded me that the artist got up there. From the ground up the piece was a perfect three colour fade with nice white in lines and a border. It was perfect. Whenever I walked into town with my parents I used to look up for ages staring at it until one day I looked up and it was gone. The Council had buffed the surface clean, so I took it upon myself to learn how to paint graffiti and do what that artist had done. I’ve been painting ever since.

Would you consider your work to be socially conscious?

ADW: Primarily I create for me, I get a kick out of creating my own artwork whatever the motivation for the piece may be. I approach my work with a degree of honesty and believe that people can relate to this, especially in these strange and uncertain times.

Do you feel that street art has a positive effect on communities where it exists?

ADW: Good street art has a very positive effect within our society. I think people are getting pretty bored with the grey, cold walls that surround us and that most people enjoy and appreciate a splash of colour in their lives.

TEXT: I do feel that art has a positive effect on people and certain communities, but I also feel that with everything positive there comes some negatives. Legal spaces are often in “disadvantaged areas” because the council or the government feel that it would make an area better if there was a new culture or skill brought in. That’s all well and good but what the councils and government don’t realise is that within “disadvantaged areas” there are often serious problems with authority figures, so when someone comes into one of these areas and tries to show the locals how to learn this new skill there is always going to be some disagreement too.

Do you think that the amount of privatised space given up for advertising in the city has influenced people’s desire to create street art?

ADW: It would be nice to see more legal sites for artists so there could be more of a balance between the two. It would also be nice to see the huge sums of money invested into advertising being invested in the talented artists our country has to offer.

TEXT: I think it has influenced/motivated people to do more to build upon a very small culture.

How do you feel about your work being removed or tampered with?

ADW: Honestly, it is pretty disheartening to see your piece painted over or buffed off after all the hard work, but that’s just the nature of the game. It would be nice to see some of my work last longer than 24 hours though.

TEXT: I feel the way every other artist does about their work, it’s individual to themselves but also when you put your work into the public eye it’s no longer yours; people may change it or remove it, but at the end of the day, it’s the public’s to do with as they wish.

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Freda Hughes

Freda Hughes