‘Galway Banksy’ focuses on mind over matter in hospital graffiti

Finbar 247 was let loose in University Hospital Galway to mark Mental Health Week with positive messages

Graffiti artist Finbar 247’s work at the foyer of University College Hospital Galway. Photograph: Nicholas Grundy

Graffiti artist Finbar 247’s work at the foyer of University College Hospital Galway. Photograph: Nicholas Grundy

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Finbar 247 has seen the inside of police vans in Germany and has, at times, attracted more than a passing interest from gardaí for his work. He is known to some as Galway’s Banksy and is one of several graffiti artists who have enlivened city streetscapes.

“I can understand why people get upset about private property, but I never ever set out to do any damage,” says the graphic artist, who trained at Limerick School of Art and Design.

He has temporarily traded his spray cans and mask for emulsion and rollers and has been let loose on the foyer of one of the State’s busiest hospitals, University Hospital Galway, for a commission by the hospital’s Arts Trust.

“There are 86,400 seconds in a day . . . make the most of them,” is one of his series of mindful messages, painted in black against the white backdrop of the hospital walls.

“You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with,” reads another, referring to the influence others can have, both positive and negative, on our lives.

The hospital’s arts director, Margaret Flannery, who regularly curates exhibitions for the institution in busy corridors and smaller spaces, secured the large canvas to mark this year’s Mental Health Week earlier this month.

“There are plans to refurbish the foyer, but not before the new year, so it seemed like just the right time,” she says.

A local contractor, Conneally Maintenance and Refurbishment, sponsored the initial preparation.

Flannery was familiar with Finbar 247’s work, including the large outdoor paintings he undertook for the Cúirt International Festival of Literature, and his installation Love Versus Fear at the Galway Arts Centre in May.

Finbar studied visual communications in Limerick. He then boarded a campervan with two friends – a mathematician who gave up his job with Cisco to play music, and a biomedical engineer who switched to juggling – and “took off around Europe”.

The “trio of madness”, as he calls it, met up with street artists and buskers, outside the Pompidou centre in Paris, in Berlin and beyond.

The experience “ignited his passion” for public art, he says, and he turned his hand – and his spray cans – to walls and hoardings and other surfaces in cities across Europe.

 

Painting the town

His mission on returning to Galway last year was to “take the old, unloved walls and spaces of the city and turn them into pieces of art for the general public to enjoy”.

The western city might lack a large municipal gallery, but it can still have a “walking outdoor exhibition”, he says.

His indoor work at the hospital takes a mindfulness theme, similar to that of his work elsewhere, that advocates the benefits of “living in the now”.

“I suppose I listen to a lot of audio stuff, and that’s what inspires some of it,” he says, leafing through his sketchbook full of drafts of images he has been working on.

He and Flannery decided to create something that took best advantage of the footfall of thousands of patients and staff, focusing on the “wellness” that is often taken for granted.

“When you are in a hospital, people are constantly looking at you and asking you are you okay physically, and sometimes it is okay to look out a bit and remember the value of feeling well,” he says.

The fragility of life was something he has direct experience of after his mother became seriously ill and he had to consider what it might be like if she wasn’t around. Not only did his mother recover, but his father realised there was no reason to put off until tomorrow the trip that could be taken today.

Finbar 247 describes himself as a natural optimist, and has taken what some might regard as the “negative” graffiti culture and turned it into a positive art form.

Interaction with staff and patients in the hospital is as much a part of the installation as the finished work, he says, whether it be discussion of his slogans – such as how it takes 21 days to form a new habit – or images, such as the hourglass depicting the sands of time.

Over the main corridor is a particular message for carers, whether they be staff or friends or relatives: “If you want to take care of someone, take care of yourself first.”

“That’s dedicated to a friend of mine who really does help everyone but himself,” he says.

Flannery plans to hold workshops and talks to discuss some of the concepts.

Hospital manager Ann Cosgrove hopes people will “take a couple of minutes” when passing through to “engage”.

 

Gates of Galway

The graffiti artist is also working on a project known as the Gates of Galway, which involves creating art out of the unexpected.

One of the gates is down at Raleigh Row, also known as Shell Lane, which used to be on the main route into the city from Connemara. The image of Salthill and the seaside he has painted serves as a window to that past, and it has already changed the energy of the area, he believes.

Changing the energy within a busy hospital is an extension of that, and his installation will stay up until Christmas.

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