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Dublin street art: 'We would work as fast as we could to avoid getting caught and arrested'

Street art has emerged from the shadows and is now firmly in the mainstream, writes Dublin street artist Solus.

Solus Street artist

TEN YEARS AGO in Dublin there were only a handful of people doing street art. It was very underground and was much bigger in the UK and America.

The artists here at the time all had Flickr accounts where they would upload images of the work they had painted the previous night. I think most of our Flickr followers were other artists so we would share the images with each other and whoever else who was interested or knew about it.

We would go out at night, sometimes alone, sometimes with a few others that were going to paint. We would work as fast as we could to avoid getting caught and arrested for vandalism. I never saw it as a real crime; I also tried to never paint on private property. I took a photo of my work as soon as I finished even if it was dark as it may not be there the following day. Sometimes it would get buffed the very next morning and sometimes it would last months. You never knew.

Graffiti writers versus street artists

The art on the streets was split between graffiti writers and street artists. Graffiti and street art are similar but at the same time very different. Graffiti is mostly lettering and characters and street art is mostly imagery: political, social commentary, abstract etc.

I personally appreciate both. There was tension between graffiti writers and street artists. A lot of times a street art piece would be tagged or painted over by graffiti artists.

I never got into doing street art for any other reason than I really enjoyed it. It was the only thing that held my attention. I went through phases of liking different things but I would drop them and move onto the next. This was different. When I wasn’t making art I was looking at other people’s work. I remember going through tough times and just putting my head down into making art, it saved me many times.

Early Dublin scene

Around 2009 or so a gallery shop called Anewspace opened in Dublin. It sold street art prints from big artists from the UK and the US. They stocked artists like Banksy, Dface, Obey and some Irish artists including Will St Leger, Canvaz, DMC, ADW and others.

It was a great place; they had openings every few weeks and seemed to be doing really well.

There were also graffiti/street art jams starting to happen around the country; they were basically artists painting walls legally while people watched and had drinks. It was definitely beginning to become more popular around then. I remember doing my first limited edition work for Anewspace, it was a hand-stencilled piece of a boy with a tattoo and I made ten of them. There were also one or two Irish artists doing solo exhibitions in event spaces they rented. I had my first solo exhibition in The Culture Box in Temple Bar.

Fast forward to 2017, and the scene has really evolved.

Reaching a wider audience

Some of the artists that I knew from the start had stopped and disappeared, some got jobs and some were still on the scene. The ones who were still doing it got better at their craft and the size of the walls they were painting were gradually getting bigger. There were also lots of new artists, a lot of them started at the jams and mural festivals doing legal walls, they never painted illegally during the night. All the artists use Instagram now and there is a far wider audience.

People were beginning to do street art tours for tourists in Dublin and brands were commissioning artist to paint their logos and products. The bigger cities such as Limerick, Belfast and Waterford are having mural festivals. Limerick was the European City of Culture and they commissioned a lot of artists to paint huge murals on the sides of buildings.

More building owners want to have street art or mural artworks on their walls now. Street artists like Maser are doing really well internationally and Eoin O’Connor has an upcoming show in London.

It has been an adventure.

Solus travels a lot with his artwork now and has had the opportunity to paint and exhibit internationally. This year he is an ambassador for Culture Night which takes place tomorrow,  Friday September 22. He will be creating a piece in Kildare especially for the night. Then, later this month he will be painting a mural in Paris. Follow me on IG @solusstreetart. Solus Art.

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About the author:

Solus  / Street artist

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