From the Kino in Cork to Free Derry Corner, Ellie O’Byrne tells the stories behind the best wall art in Ireland.
Cork-born urban artist Fin DAC painted one of his trademark dark-haired beauties on The Kino on Washington St in 2014. He frequently makes visual reference to the location of his work in his pieces, and Jackie Oh!!, as she’s known, sports both a t-shirt of Cork band The Frank and Walters and a cinematic reference to Moby Dick in the tattoo on her arm. “It was cool painting it, because it’s on a busy road, so people stopped and asked loads of questions about what I was doing; you’re never quite sure how people will respond to your art in public places,” said Fin DAC.
Collage artist Tom Doig’s Flags of the Townland covers the façade of 62 Shandon Street. Based on two centuries of Cork butter wrappers, it plays tribute to Cork’s cultural connections to butter, including nearby Shandon Butter Exchange, now a museum. “I responded to an open call from Cork City Council and I think they were drawn to the sense of place,” said Doig.
Doig’s technique, utilising printed paper, wallpaper paste and acrylic gel, is not weather-proof; the butter wrapper piece is a temporary installation and will be removed this year. “When they deteriorate, it’s good to have a plan for their removal, instead of letting them degrade,” he said.
ReImagine Cork and People's Republic of Cork (PROC)
Electrical power boxes: A necessary but ugly part of a cityscape, or an opportunity to bring a buzz to the city centre in more ways than one? Urban community group ReImagine Cork and grassroots website People's Republic Of Cork use the boxes, formerly painted a standard industrial grey, as a canvas for welcoming international guests, explaining Leeside slang and showcasing some Cork cultural icons.
Roy Keane, camogie star Ashling Thompson, and Pavarotti belting out a Cork ‘come all ye faithful’ feature in stencilled designs by local graphic designer Garreth Joyce, but the most popular has probably been PROC's homage to Cork punk band The Sultans of Ping FC: The opening lines from their hit single ‘Where’s Me Jumper’.
Maser’s homage to BP Fallon has graced the side of Temple Bar venue The Button Factory since 2011 and has become something of a fixture. “Beep is one of those characters I’d known of for years and I’ve always been drawn to him,” said Maser, real name Al Hester. “Anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting the man knows what I’m on about.”
Much of Maser’s work is typographical or based on boldly coloured geometric forms, not least his most recent piece, on the building adjacent to Apollo House on Tara St, as well as the controversial Repeal the 8th mural removed last year from the Project Arts Centre, so the portrait of Fallon is something of a rarity.
Francis St’s Stop Wars uses Yoda, a stormtrooper, and classic Star Wars lettering to spell out a pacifist message, and is the work of local artist FiNK. FiNK’s yen for all things originating in a galaxy far, far away hasn’t stopped there; following the death of Carrie Fisher last December, he extended the mural around a corner to the derelict Barley Mow pub, also on Francis St, where Princess Leia is accompanied by the words “our only hope”, completing the anti-war message.
The artist was recently interviewed by actor Gabriel Byrne for a documentary on George Bernard Shaw after he completed Thoughts, his tribute to Shaw, on Synge St, where the writer and philosopher was born.
Cork-born, London-based Conor Harrington was acutely aware of Belfast’s rich political history of murals when he painted The Duel of Belfast — one of a series of duel-based pieces he has produced in cities around the world — on the gable end of the Black Box Theatre in 2012.
“Belfast was the only city in the world that I’ve painted in that I was worried about how appropriate it would be,” said Harrington. “They have such a history of mural painting, most of which are a direct expression of conflict or a tribal declaration. My work comes from a different place and is generally a reflection of the current political climate, despite having all the stylings of the 18th century.”
Waterford is being put on the street-art map in no uncertain terms by the annual Waterford Walls street art festival, where well-known international urban artists and rising stars join forces in the month of August to rejuvenate the city with street art. Australian-born, Glasgow-based photo-realist Smug One created three portraits for the 2016 festival, including this portrait of fellow artist Dermot McConaghy on Barrack St. Fittingly, a family of pigeons have taken to nesting in a recess in McConaghy’s unruly red beard.
Roscommon-born Joe Caslin’s vast paper and acrylic glue murals came to prominence when his Claddagh Embrace piece made the front page of The New York Times following the same-sex marriage referendum. He has never shied away from using his art for political messages; a secondary school art teacher, his Our Nation’s Sons series highlighted the plight of vulnerable young men in Ireland.
His 2016 mural on the derelict Ard Rí hotel for the Waterford Walls Festival, produced in conjunction with Pieta House, is a highly visible message of support for those suffering mental health problems; its vast scale means it’s visible from the entire Waterford quayside.
Free Derry Corner
Free Derry Corner is the only piece of street art on the island of Ireland to be designated as a National Monument; in 2000, care of the slogan-painted wall in Derry’s nationalist Bogside area was handed over to the Northern Assembly’s Department of the Environment’s Heritage Service.
The symbol of Republican defiance was first painted with the words “You are now entering Free Derry” in 1969, to mark the semi-autonomous area that existed in resistance to British rule during the most fractious years of The Troubles.
Now a tourist attraction, everyone from Free Gaza campaigns to cancer charities have repainted it.
Killorglin’s annual festival, K-Fest, utilises vacant properties in the Kerry town for pop-up arts events. In 2016, they invited Cork artist Lorraine MacDonnell, to paint a warehouse in the Fairfield area of the town. She was thrilled to be provided with such a large canvas.
“When they told me it was a 30ft-tall building I jumped at the chance,” she said. MacDonnell’s vivid piece, raising awareness of the plight of the honey bee, was inspired by the beehive-like shape of the building.
She spent seven days on scaffolding painting the mural, which she says was well-received: “A bee-keeping society from the area even stopped by. That was really nice, to get some feedback from locals.”
Finbar 247, occasionally referred to as Galway’s Banksy, has treaded on both sides of the street art divide, between sanctioned or commissioned works and less legal or welcome activities. He began as a tagger in his teens, but the Cúirt Poetry walls project, in conjunction with the annual Cúirt International Festival of Literature, is as respectable as it comes: Finbar 247 produced a series of murals on Bowling Green inspired by poems from writers like Philip Larkin, Dermot Healy, Nikola Madzirov and Irvine Welsh. A plaque bearing the complete poem is also set alongside each mural, so the public can read the work that inspired each mural.
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