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Sitting down with Maser: The man and the artist behind the blue Repeal wall

The 35-year-old’s love for his craft is matched only by his love for his city.

PastedImage-6716 Source: Instagram/MaserArt

UNUSUALLY FOR A man known by his teenage graffiti tag and for his art rather than his own image, Maser is back in Dublin and is speaking about his work.

He’s just finished a talk alongside Paul O’Connell, Roz Purcell and two other well-known names as part of the WH Culture Collective. That’s a former Miss Ireland and Ireland rugby captain he’s just shared a PR stage with.

It’s a semi-corporate public appearance that may seem at odds with the perception one has of the internationally prolific street artist. So is that something he’s comfortable with?

“Maybe that’s coming with age. I’m 35 now and I’m getting a little bit more comfortable with it and knowing myself more and what I do. You know you can express as much as you can with your work, but it’s also nice to be able to give people some insight into why you do it. Your motivations and reasons and stuff.”

He admits he has been somewhat reluctant though partly because, as most people would testify to, “Dublin is so small”.

He doesn’t think publicity will affect his work though. Keeping work and personal lives separate is something people try and do in every walk of life, he says.

“If you want to know me, you can Google me.”

Exhibition

The talk isn’t the only reason Maser is in town. He’s also around for his debut show in the Graphic Studio Gallery which opened last week.

PastedImage-70433 Maser - Translation XII Source: Facebook/Graphic Studio Gallery

The show has nearly 20 fine art prints of his original work. There are woodblock prints, copper plated etching and some 3D works.

In many ways it’s a stripped down exhibition for someone who has exhibited at Palais de Tokyo and was the primary artist at Sydney’s New Year’s Eve festival.

It’s even further from when he was 15 and was spray painting Dublin’s walls with stencils, something he says he did “fanatically” in the mid-1990s.

“The graffiti I would describe it as would be abstract typography.”

Skewing letterforms and I was pretty good at that I must admit. I painted a lot and travelled a lot and did a lot of that.

#maserart

A post shared by M A S E R (@maserart) on

It’s from skewing letterforms that he got developed the Maser tag that’s become his artist name and even his nickname among friends.

Maser says he always wanted his street work to “stress the importance of self-evaluation” and that he’d “always think about the traffic going by” as he painted it.

“It was about interrupting the landscape,” he says as he reflects on people going to work noticing a new mural he’d painted.

As Maser’s street art became more professional and defined, it developed through collaborations like his long-standing one with another tall Dublin bruiser, the musician Damien Dempsey.

The positivity of Dempsey’s message in songs like It’s All Good echoes the mood that’s been the hallmark of Maser’s work around the city they both so obviously adore.

These good vibes as Dempsey might put it are perhaps no clearer expressed in any of Maser’s work than in his use of the ♥ symbol.

That symbol and Maser’s use of it as part of the Repeal The 8th campaign brought him a wider more political audience earlier this year. But that wasn’t the reason he first started leaving ‘Maser ♥ U’ signs dotted around.

The symbol itself developed when he was in his 20s and was travelling to and from Dublin while spending time in Denmark, Germany and France. Painting everywhere he went.

When he started doing the heart back here, it was more about giving people a positive distraction from the doom and gloom of Irish society at the time.

“There was a lot of bullshit, a lot of crap int the media, it was all bad news,” he says.

I didn’t really know, I was just making stickers. It’s always nice when you see it scrawled on a wall, when you see a heart, it triggers something nice.

DAN26983 (1) Maser photographed this week as part of the WH Culture Collective.

Maser’s travelling around Europe allowed him stave off some of the longer-term wanderlust he might otherwise have shared with his peers in moving to Australia or elsewhere.

Instead, he built up a greater appreciation for home that has meant he’s currently based in east London, a short hop back. His international work though has meant that he does frequently spend periods in many other parts of the world.

“When I travel I don’t leave Dublin or Ireland, I feel like I bring it with me, you know? I’m trying to showcase this Irish guy that’s doing stuff abroad.”

So does he feel he’s representing Ireland in that respect?

Yea, I think there’s a responsibility there. Even to your work but also in how you act in other countries. You know when you’re at the events and you’re talking to people, you’re representing your country and also your city.

PastedImage-63759 Setting up for the Moniker Art Fair in Brick Lane, London. Source: Facebook/Maser

The wall

Maser did, however, spend two years in Arkansas. It was on one of his trips back home that he was asked by his good friend Andrea Horan of HunReal Issues to design something for the pro-choice campaign.

What she actually asked him to do was to design a graphic for a badge. He did this but then said to her: “It’d be great if I could paint this”.

The wall of the Project Arts Centre had become a kind of space for campaign art and was a canvass for a Yes Equality mural during the same-sex marriage referendum. That time by another Dublin artist Will St Ledger.

PastedImage-66565 Yes Equality mural on the Project Arts Centre during the 2015 referendum. Source: Twitter

Horan looked into seeing if they could use the same space for Maser’s Repeal mural.

“She came back and said that we got the green light. It was as simple as that you know. I came in for a few days and we painted it.”

Maser says himself and a few others “bashed it out in a few hours”, but did he think about it much beforehand? It being such contentious topic in Ireland:

I was thinking a lot about it before I did it and I was thinking that it was the right thing to do. And when we did it I sort of consciously said I’m not going to do any interviews about it. I’m just going to share it and hopefully with public art people will take ownership of it and the message will spread. And it did.I could only really look at myself and my intentions and why I wanted to do it. It was even having simple conversations with my mum and my sister and it came down to my mum saying, ‘Imagine you trying to tell me what to do with my body?’

“We did the mural and we let it take a life of its own and it really did. We made it copyright-free so if people wanted to share it in their own way we made a website to download it.”

This is gonna be #HunReal. @maserart #RepealThe8th

A post shared by The Hunreal Issues (@thehunrealissues) on

The 14 foot mural lasted just over two weeks. After about 50 complaints, but hundreds more messages of support, Dublin City Council Planning Department informed the centre that it was in violation of planning rules.

Project Arts Centre Artistic Director Cian O’Brien said that it was the first time they’d ever been given a notice for a painted mural but they agreed to take it down anyway.

For Maser, it didn’t matter that the mural was coming down. The image had already spread so widely that it had done its job and more.

I thought that was amazing. I just thought that you’re going to do yourself an injustice because now you’re giving it a second lease of life again. There were people outside protesting and people painting their faces blue. I thought it was amazing.

30/7/2016. Abortion Protests Issues Maser says that how people engage with his art is a key component. Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

With public art, he explains, there’s no point being too precious about your work. How people react to it, like taking their picture beside or sending it to other people, is important as the work itself.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen this either. Joe Caslin’s mural on the corner of Dame Street and George’s Street produced a similar effect on social media.

There were objections to Caslin’s mural as well but he successfully availed of an on-street exemption that’s in place for political messaging prior to referendums.

14/04/2015. Same Sex Mural. The work of Irish arti Joe Caslin's marriage equality mural viewed from Dame Street in April 2015. Source: Leon Farrell/RollingNews.ie

It wasn’t completely clear that he’d get the exemption in time though, so Caslin had to take a chance and go for it.

It’s an attitude that Maser applauds and encourages.

“We have to just do it ourselves and not wait on anybody,” he says.

“You know you have to be a bit of a pioneer like that and think ‘this is what I want to do’. Like Joe did, he got such amazing space and he just went ahead and did and got it done.”

Does that mean we’ll be seeing more Maser designs as part of the Repeal the 8th campaign. He says he hopes so, but with the caveat that he doesn’t want to be bombarding people.

“We’ll see where we it goes in the next month or two.”

Read: Dublin photographer’s portraits leave stars with ‘nowhere to hide’ >

Read: “Humour resolves conflict, and it doesn’t threaten” – Blindboy on mental health, society and Gasc**tism >

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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