By Fiona McLoone
The giant billboards and moving visual displays we are confronted with on the streets of Dublin are very dependent on both digital printing and vinyl wrapping – which they justify by arguing that the goal of the major brands and advertising companies is to bombard the public eye as quickly as they can with their messages and products. Environmental responsibility aside, what the corporate world needs to remember is that advertisement campaigns will only be effective if they trigger a reaction. The current revolution brewing in the world of design demonstrates that this ‘digital era’ still appreciates the intricacy of hand-crafted design origins – the most common example of this being graffiti.
The origins of graffiti in it’s most basic sense of writings/drawings on a surface in a public place can be linked as far back to ancient Greece. Throughout the course of history, it has been implemented in a plethora of social and political agendas. Even today politicians today are utilising this art-form in their election campaigns. Society appears to have much more understanding and acceptance of street art and murals because of their association with modern art and pop-up exhibitions. This raising up of graffiti design to the same level of respect as more ‘traditional mediums’ such as sculpture, along with it’s merging with sign painting is not only an inspiring way to communicate your viewpoints and ideas in an enticing way but also provides us with a novel resource to delve into our past and pay homage to our design roots.
Society appears to have much more understanding and acceptance of street art and murals because of their association with modern art and pop-up exhibitions.
A question that is frequently asked in the art world is whether or not culture has been dumbed down if it ‘pales in comparison’ to earlier epochs with regard to its aesthetic achievements. As far as I can see, our creative resources have far from run dry. Everywhere we look we can see creative forces combining to make great works of art. We see artists every day on the streets of Dublin reviving the almost-lost craft of manually-made signs and poster boards, at every protest and rally. This is an irreplaceable nuance of art and design that deserves attention.
The Repeal the 8th mural commissioned by Hunreal Issues and realised by Maser Art on the wall of the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar encapsulated this perfectly. The hype that the mural generated led to a cascade of positive action which spurred the Wicklow based artist Dara Kenny to add his voice and more importantly his effort to the concept of a campaign mural. He used a designated graffiti wall in Arklow, Co. Wicklow for his project, which spared him the ‘planning permission’ debacle which led to the removal of the Maser Art mural.
In an interview Dara explained the rationale behind his work: “Maser’s mural shows how powerful a symbol can be but it’s important that artists continue to create pieces that directly address issues, to flood social media, open the general public’s eyes and put pressure on those who can pass the bill.” This quote encapsulates the need for this revival – an avenue that society can explore in order to push boundaries, shatter expectations and have their say in how politics, society and civic engagement plays out.
Clearly sign painters are rapidly gaining status as designers, vying to consolidate their place in the same artistic realms as tattoo artists, jewelers, carpenters and a whole slew of other craftspeople whose human touch we depend on to reassure us that the industrial and technological revolutions didn’t entirely mechanize the production of advertisements and information campaigns. Street art reminds us both of what we have to fight for and what we have lost. By fueling rally campaigns and protests; sign painters are adding their voice to the struggle for revolution.
Validating the work of these hard-working people who cling to their craft while simultaneously bringing Irish society on this revolutionary journey with them is the challenge now. The only reason that 95% of new shop-owners and campaigners go for the digital fix is that it’s cheap.
Street art reminds us both of what we have to fight for and what we have lost.
Addressing our current obsession with the artisan is another issue to tackle head-on. Let’s scrap the economy of faux-craftsmanship and pseudo-ethical sourcing which is hiding behind the artisan label. It’s all about sentiment, tapping into the unique and the special instead of churning out one-size-fits-all signs time and time again. Personal, hand-crafted signs allow so much more scope for self-expression and personal flourish – Lincoln Place’s Makeshop, the Lighthouse Cinema’s monolith and Block T’s multicoloured logo all stand as stellar examples of this.
Let’s scrap the economy of faux-craftsmanship and pseudo-ethical sourcing which is hiding behind the artisan label.
The only solution, of course, is to ask questions, to dare to be difficult, and to take a stand. If more of our citizens took a look at the streets around them we’d have a better city to promote as a world-class design platform.