Waterford Walls providing much needed canvas and brightening city streets

Polish street artist Iljin says he got a great response to the piece above for last year's Waterford Walls.

The Waterford Walls project provides an outlet for artists from the locality and beyond, as well as helping to brighten up the city, writes Marjorie Brennan

THE street art scene has exploded in recent years, with Irish cities and towns embracing the exciting artistic potential of the urban landscape.

Last year, as part of the inaugural Waterford Walls festival, 25 derelict buildings around the city were transformed by the addition of eye-catching murals by talented street artists from home and abroad.

The city is now gearing up for another colourful makeover, with the project expanding to the nearby town of Tramore, which will host T-Walls. In addition to 40 new murals, there will workshops, live demos and music trails around the city, and 3,000 local primary school children will be involved in creating public art installations.

Project curator Louise Flynn says the seeds of inspiration for Waterford Walls were sown in a community project, New Street Gardens, which revitalised a vacant and disused space near the city centre.

Louise Flynn, curator of the Waterford Walls project
Louise Flynn, curator of the Waterford Walls project

“Edel Tobin came up with the idea. Eight schools did murals as part of the project. Then we said, ‘Right, we’ll expand it into the whole city and turn it into an open air gallery’. Just after that I went to Miami where I did some street art and realised it didn’t take that long to paint huge murals. The artists there could do them in three or four days — so I felt then that it wasn’t impossible.”

Caoilfhionn Hanton is the youngest artist participating in the project. The 18-year-old did her Leaving Cert this year and is passionate about life drawing. She will be be using stencils, freehand and spray painting for her assigned site in O’Connell Street and is hugely excited about bringing her talents to bear in her native city.

“There’s a lot of reasons I love street art, but this is the perfect project for me because I’m so proud to be from Waterford. It’s also great that it’s all free for anyone. I love going into galleries, but even people who don’t like art can see this and appreciate it. It’s not elitist in any way.

“I’m part of the generation that grew up during the recession and it makes the city more vibrant and energetic. I hope to bring that energy to my wall as well. I also enjoy the banter on the street as well. It’s good to be out, and for people to see work being done outside a studio.”

Caoilfhionn Hanton’s piece from Waterford Walls 2015.
Caoilfhionn Hanton’s piece from Waterford Walls 2015.

While Hanton has had to fit her art in around her studies, Anna Doran pursues her passion outside of her work as an engineer and caring for her one-year-old daughter.

“A lot of street artists — and artists in general — have full-time jobs. Art is my passion and I do it at evenings and weekends, whenever I can. We do the painting at the event but a lot of preparation would go into a street art piece. For example, mine would be mainly a stencil piece so every night I’m coming home and cutting the stencils.”

Doran also painted at the event last year and was thrilled with the reaction. “They gave us a huge long wall last year that lots of us worked on and the feedback was brilliant. Waterford was hit badly by the recession so there was lots of grey empty spaces and people were amazed at the transformation. They do tours of the street art around the city now and this year, it’s only going to get bigger. It has totally brightened up the landscape of the city.”

Doran says her engineering experience is an advantage when it comes to preparing for the project.

“We could be doing huge pieces up to 12 metres long, and really high, so you would need to be able to design and figure out all the measurements as well. It’s quite mathematical, it’s not just freehand, it can be quite technical.” For Doran, the festival is a family affair, and their help is vital in bringing her project to fruition.

“My partner Rob will come with me painting and I’ll bring my one-year-old Annie as well. She helps me with all my painting projects, she’s a street art baby.” Doran says her partner will also be on hand to come to the rescue in case of the Irish weather spoiling the party.

“Any street artist will tell you the weather is the greatest challenge. It’s hard if you’re a stencil artist, you have to put up a lot card up on the walls and spray them, so if they get wet, it can be difficult. That’s where Rob will come in, he’ll have the umbrella up.”

Anna Doran’s peacock from last year’s Waterford Walls event.
Anna Doran’s peacock from last year’s Waterford Walls event.

Street artist Iljin is originally from Krakow in Poland but has been living in Ireland for the past few years. He participated in Waterford Walls last year and is looking forward to working on a larger site this year.

“The response last year was fantastic, it is one of the best events in Ireland at the moment and it has really helped promote street art. It’s also great that the event has spread to Tramore, near the city. I’m doing stencil art of a traditional village woman hugging a duck, it represents happiness, but also a sense of community and a social connection, something we need in this time because we talk less to each other,” he says.

Iljin says he likes street art because of its accessibility to the public and its positive impact. “I like that my work can be seen by everyone, you can make people who are passing happy and the city looks brighter and better.”

While Waterford Walls has been a cultural success story for the city, it relies on a huge voluntary effort. Flynn, who helps organise the event on top of her full-time job as a tattoo artist, says they started planning for this year’s festival straight after last year’s event. “Applying for funding is a full-time job in itself. It has been a little easier to convince businesses locally to come on board since last year. We need a big sponsor — Colourtrend is our main paint sponsor and they’re amazing. That’s probably the biggest challenge, the funding.”

Flynn says the project has been hugely important to the city. “We’ve had so many comments from people on how it has added to their everyday lives and brightened their journeys to work. There’s a real sense of ownership, which is what we want – this art belongs to the people.”

Waterford Walls runs from Thursday to Sunday. www.waterfordwalls.ie


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