The incredible power of street art

Trudy Feenane

The sprawl of Dublin’s urban concrete expands around you; you look to your left and you are reminded to embrace the day as you spot the “U ARE ALIVE” mural on Camden street. A walk through Temple Bar strikes a political pulse as the “Repeal the 8th” mural reminds you of a past triumph. Cutting through Love Lane, your inner romantic ignites itself. This is the hallmark of street art and it is the power no other form of expression can master: it says so much without saying much at all.

The creative scene in Dublin has flourished in recent years and Irish street artists are forming a vibrant community to lead the way.

Guiding this community are Dublin-born street artists Aches and Maser. These street artists have become household names in their creative field, and their work has garnered them much respect for being the quintessential spirit of contemporary visual art.

Aches broke into the creative scene at a young age, spending his teenage years painting in quiet laneways and on hidden walls. As he progressed he moved his paintings to the city, bringing his distinct style with him.

This distinct style draws inspiration from the digital world, using aspects such as glitches and additive colour theory. His most recognised piece is the mural of Savita Halappanavar, which quickly became the backdrop for the Yes supporters during the Repeal the Eighth campaign.

Other notable works include the “U ARE ALIVE” mural he co-created with Maser, and the striking mural of The Cranberries lead singer Dolores O’ Riordan in an array of colour and fluidity.

Maser has been on the scene for the past 25 years and has a myriad of international exhibitions and commissioned works under his belt. His work transports the dull city infrastructure to a place of bold colour blocking and thought-provoking text. He doesn’t shy away from political statements either, evident in his “Repeal the Eighth” mural that was removed twice for its controversial nature, before eventually claiming its spot on Fleet Street.

Maser reminds us of the power art has to reflect social issues, which is the same tune sung – or rather hummed – by Roscommon-born street artist Joe Caslin. His work explores some of the most controversial and thought provoking issues in modern Ireland.

He depicts people in their most vulnerable states and reminds us of the brittle nature of humanity. The artist does so using only a black and white palette devoid of any text that is visually commanding yet powerfully subtle.

Caslin’s mural, “The Claddagh Embrace”, on George’s street became the emblem of the 2015 Marriage Equality Referendum, depicting two men in an intimate embrace. Other works touch on homelessness, drug addiction, direct provision and mental health, such as his 2017 instalment “The Volunteers”.

This powerful large-scale mural depicted on Trinity College’s Front Square is within the three-part multimedia series highlighting the importance of volunteerism in tackling some of the most pressing issues facing Ireland. The mural is a call for change in Ireland’s current drug policy.

It depicts leaders and advocates for the issue such as independent senator Lynn Ruane, and Fiona O’ Reilly, the managing director of SafetyNet. Both women are tending to Rachel Keogh, an activist in recovery from heroin addiction, while a doctor passively turns away from her aid.

Other noteworthy names are breaking onto the scene in recent years, such as Emmalene Blake, the genius behind the Covid-19 related street art that is appearing around Dublin. Blake takes well-known faces in the pop-culture world and depicts them giving Covid-19 advice with a twist; Dua Lipa is one such example, who has speech bubbles surrounding her with lyrics such as “don’t show up” and “don’t come out”  from her hit single “Don’t Start Now”.

Whether it’s to hold up a mirror to society, to evoke a conversation, or simply to prompt a grin, street art has left an indelible mark on Irish communities, towns and cities. Next time the dreary Irish weather has you pacing through the city to get from A to B, take a lookup and observe the colourful walls and striking quotes. It might be exactly what you need.

Trudy Feenane

Image Credit: Antoine Merour Unsplash