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'Barristers, baristas and block layers': The people who paint Dublin's striking traffic light boxes

“Dublin is a very beautiful city, but sometimes the city can do with a helping hand.”

Image: Dublin Canvas/Instagram

OVER THE PAST few years, many of Dublin’s traffic light control boxes have undergone a makeover. Where once they were dull and grey, they now inject a splash of colour into the otherwise dull streets and have become a vital feature of the city landscape.

The project is all part of the Dublin Canvas initiative, a public art initiative that takes previously unused public spaces and transforms them into an art canvas.

“These boxes are always naturally located at traffic junctions making them highly visible, perfectly located platforms to exhibit art to all pedestrians, cyclists and motorists as they wait for the traffic lights to turn green,” explains David Murtagh, project co-ordinator.

Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest ones.

Dublin Canvas was launched in the summer of 2015 when fifteen boxes along Camden Street, Baggot Street and Rathmines were painted by local artists.

It was an immediate success and a further 31 boxes were painted that autumn. The following year, the project expanded to cover all five of Dublin City Council’s areas.

There are now 193 boxes dotted around the capital.

Over 131 artists have taken part in the project to date and it is open to anyone. Once you can paint, you’re eligible to participate.

“Artists are from all walks of life,” says Murtagh. “Barristers, baristas, block layers. A mixture of nationalities and a variety of art disciplines. Graphic designers, illustrators, stencil artists, fine artists, street artists and landscape artists, to name but a few.”

The pieces are playful, funny, and often quintessentially Dublin.

Conor McGregor, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and Phil Lynott are just some of the Dubliners to have been immortalised by the project.

dubsl Source: Dublin Canvas/Instagram

Out of the ring, into the jungle by Sarah Bracken

Based on web analytics, these are among the most popular works from last year.

A tribute to The Dubliners by artist Emmalene Blake.

emmel Source: Dublin Canvas/Instagram

And this intricate tribute to Georgian architecture by Brian John Spencer.

bjs Source: Dublin Canvas/Instagram

But Murtagh is keen to emphasise that while these pieces might be the most viewed online, everyone is likely to have their own personal preferences.

Art is subjective. Each person will have their own favourites.

Murtagh credits the artists for creating stunning work despite what he describes as “testing conditions”.

The units are static, and the paint is industrial, it can be quite difficult to use. Each of the pieces turned out brilliantly considering the testing conditions that they were completed in. ​

He believes that such community art projects offer a “helping hand” when it comes to making the city a more beautiful, vibrant place.

“Dublin is a very beautiful city, but sometimes the city can do with a helping hand,” says Murtagh. “By participating in the project, artists can transform the selected boxes into works of art, helping to brighten up the city.”

And is thankful to those who have donated their time and skills in service of the city to date.

We are blessed that we have such a large pool of exceptionally talented artist willing to share their time and talent to help make Dublin a better place to live, work and visit.

There will be a call out for submissions for summer 2018 shortly.

Murtagh is hopeful that a further 100 boxes will be added to the Dublin City Council area with a further 48 being added to the South Dublin City Council area. Additionally, Murtagh is hopeful of Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council getting on board.

cs Source: Dublin Canvas/Instagram

The Black Pearl of Inchicore by Cathal Craughwell

To keep up with Dublin Canvas, you can follow them on Instagram or check out their website here.

dba Source: Dublin Canvas/Instagram

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About the author:

Amy O'Connor

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