Dublin On Mission To Make Graffiti To Urban Art Transition

Dublin City Council is working with Dubliners to legally beautify the streets of the capital city, reports Erin Kennedy.

Nervously clutching a can of spray paint, Jess Tobin took her hand to the surface of a canvas, placed outside one of Dublin 8’s iconic pubs, The Bernard Shaw, and began to paint an image of two striking female faces that stopped passers-by. With adrenaline in her veins and a sense of relief too, Jess humbly signed her colourful, ‘Yes to Equality’ piece of urban art as Novice.

Commissioned by Dublin City Council in 2013, the Dublin Canvas Project, which gives artists the task of brightening up traffic light control boxes around the city, has proven to be hugely successful! Dublin 8’s Camden Street, Harrington Street and Baggot Street showcase some unique artwork and are just an example of the triumph of this community project. Tivoli Car Park on Francis Street is a haven for aspiring urban artists as it provides legal wall space in which they are able to demonstrate their talent to tourists and art lovers alike.

Dublin is filled with creative minds and something extraordinary happens when such artists come together. The Bernard Shaw (The Shaw) has managed to capture the essence of a classic Irish pub as well as the buzz of modern art and expression.

The Bernard Shaw pub in all its artistic glory. Credit: James Keown

Originally created by four music promoters, with the intention of finding a space that would allow them to do what they love without displeasing their landlord; the old, decrepit building that existed before The Bernard Shaw was turned into an art exhibiting, music-loving, good, old Irish bar. More than that, The Shaw has become a prominent platform for young artists to take part in paint jams in which they are able to practice their work alongside more experienced artists and “that’s what feels so good about (it) [being such a platform],” said Erica, Head Booker of the pub.

“That’s what feels so good about it; they [young artists] don’t have to hide or have their hoods up; instead, people come down specifically to watch them paint. I look at what some of these 18 year olds can create and just can’t believe what I’m seeing,” Erica continued. “We have a six year old kid called David who comes in here regularly with his dad to paint; hopefully, in years to come, he’ll remember us when he’s travelling the world as a famous artist.”

One of Ireland’s most well-known urban artists, Maser, started off his career at The Shaw with a studio of his own, as did Jess Tobin co-paint with Vanessa Power, known as Signs of Power, one of her most memorable pieces; a mural tribute to David Bowie in January this year.

The Bernard Shaw team works alongside the Evolve Urban Art agency and the All City graffiti store to bring to life their creative vision. However, the beauty of urban art couldn’t exist without the permission of the Dublin City Council which has been “more and more supportive over the years,” said Trevor O’Shea, owner of The Bernard Shaw.

Dublin City Council has adopted a progressive policy towards allowing legal forms of creativity throughout the city. Speaking on the social stigma associated with graffiti, Jeff Ferrell, Professor of Criminal Justice at Northern Arizona University, stated in his book, Crimes of Style, that, “Graffiti writing breaks the hegemonic hold of corporate/governmental style over the urban environment and the situations of daily life.

As a form of aesthetic sabotage, it interrupts the pleasant, efficient uniformity of ‘planned’ urban space and predictable urban living. For the writers, graffiti disrupts the lived experience of mass culture, the passivity of mediated consumption.” In other words, graffiti writers see the practice of their works as an obstruction to the power that governmental law holds over artists and their right of expression, according to Jeff Ferrell.

Dublin City Council spent €300,000 on graffiti removal in 2015, allocating an equal amount to all five electoral areas of the city, according to Mick Boyle of the Council’s Waste Department. However, urban art is a form of legal artwork whereas graffiti is illegal and therefore, the Council finds itself in the tricky situation of trying to encourage urban art whilst deterring graffiti.

The intriguing mystery associated with iconic graffiti artists such as Banksy, who has kept hidden from the world his identity despite the fame that surrounds his work, simply adds to the supposed thrill of painting anonymously and illegally. However, not all street artists live for this same form of excitement.

“I look at what some of these 18 year olds can create and just can’t believe what I’m seeing”

Jess Tobin spoke of the feeling she gets when given a space to paint. “I love the freedom and luxury of painting in a very physical way, for hours. I’m always a bit nervous; I’m pretty new to the medium so each time I’m doing a piece, I’m doing something within it for the first time. There is always a bit of fear too; the fear of not pulling it off. I reckon most creative people have the same feelings.”

Jess’ humility, despite her well-respected name in the world of urban art, was one of the things that made her so charming. Her bubbly personality and fun-loving nature shines through her work making her art distinguishably that of Novice.

Another social stigma associated with graffiti is that of arrogance as vandalising others’ property, whether private or state, is seen as disrespectful. However, at times, graffiti writers and artists can be entertaining and raise important questions about controversial social issues.

Jess really got to the core of the matter when she said, “The more painting opportunities; the better. More walls please!” There definitely are ways in which artists can express their ideas and grow in the world of urban art; agencies such as Evolve Urban Art allow exactly that. However, there just aren’t enough platforms for artists to create in a legal space.

Dublin City Council has been encouraging of urban art through its community art projects and the streets of Dublin seem to be glowing with art. Hopefully, Dubliners will see more and more legal forms of creative expression; it’s what makes the capital city so beautifully unique!

Jess Tobin’s urban art piece closest to Dublin 8 can be found on Thomas Street; a life size illustrated faux shop front that she painted with her fiancé, Austin Lysaght, A.K.A. Inkingcap. She also did two pieces for the Charlie’s food chain on George’s Street and Camden Street as well as some illustrations on the millennium walkway in Bread & Bones.

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