Making culture landmarks, one street at a time

Irish street art is growing in scale, quality and ambition – and now it even has ministerial approval as it transforms our towns and cities

Sat, Apr 12, 2014, 01:00

A few weeks ago Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan launched an artist’s residency at the Gibson Hotel in Dublin. There’s little strange in that, but the artist in question is Fin Dac, a street artist from Cork who uses stencils, freehand spray painting and other techniques to bring beauty to our urban areas.

The rubber-stamping of street art by an establishment formerly more concerned with painting over it goes some way towards acknowledging the artform as part of the mainstream. It has been a long time percolating, but graffiti and other outdoor work have transcended their subversive and often illegal origins in Ireland to become accepted.

These days you’re as likely to see an artist such as Maser earning critical and commercial clout by redesigning Brown Thomas’s shopping bag, or turning a defunct petrol forecourt in Limerick into an installation for the City of Culture, as you are a more “traditional” visual artist.

In 2010 A Visual Feast , a book celebrating Irish street art, was published. The following year Dublin Contemporary commissioned several outdoor works from Irish street artists, and in 2012 Conor Harrington’s work appeared on the cover of Irish Arts Review .

Edgier work
As the younger generation look for edgier pieces to hang on their walls, new-school entrepreneurs try to make their business shopfronts stand out, and brands aim to piggyback on cool design, the first port of call has become Irish street art. Irish work is maturing and growing in quality and scale. Individual artists have to perform a balancing act, as street artists become one-person design studios, flipping between commercial commissions, smaller-scale independent work, exhibitions and large-scale pieces.

“It’s a juggle between them all to make a living,” says the artist ADW. “The commercial work gives you the money to keep going. That’s what happened with me. My last exhibition was two years in the making, between dragging myself kicking and screaming to that point and getting enough work to put together.”

ADW’s exhibition Cut It Out , at FilmBase in Temple Bar last month, showcased his meticulous approach to stencil craft.

“For me the money side of things was a huge issue,” says Dac. “I wanted to be a full-time artist, but I didn’t want to be a struggling full-time artist. I didn’t have any romantic notions of the starving-artist thing. If I was going to do it, I was going to do it properly.

“The way I looked at commissions early on was, if I do a corporate commission and get paid, for another two months I have the luxury of not worrying about my finances. That will give me far more freedom than working in a bar.

“Then the effect on my work was not necessarily about the look and feel of my work but about my level of expertise. I don’t have any training. I didn’t go to art college. I don’t have a degree.”

Public approval
In 2006 the Bodytonic collective took over the Bernard Shaw pub in Dublin and let some of the city’s artists run riot on its walls. ADW says this was a key moment, when the art started to strike a chord with the passing public.

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