Home Limerick People Limerick’s Urban Art movement as seen through eyes of a young Limerick practitioner

Limerick’s Urban Art movement as seen through eyes of a young Limerick practitioner

15 min read
Urban art seems to be the hot discussion topic in Limerick at the moment. Some love it. Others are reticent. A minority would rather see it done elsewhere.

Whatever one’s view one thing is is certain: the development of an urban art movement in Limerick has created a fundamental mind-shift in how we approach this form of art, how we relate to culture and even raises deep questions about what art is.

Questions have also been raised about how this new movement is including young Limerick talent. Are they excluded from the project with emphasis put on visiting artists or are they being educated and encouraged by some of the best urban artists in the world?

Electricity Box on William St Limerick

Over the last two years some of you will have noticed little colourful gems being created on what were once gaudy grey electricity boxes located across Limerick city. One of the key players in this project is Limerick-man Eoin Barry. Eoin is a graduate of Fine Art and Printmaking at Limerick College of Art and Design and is currently pursuing a Masters in Social Practice and the Creative Environment.

Eoin notes that during his early studies he was getting bit disillusioned with the amount
of work he was creating and how it was merely only sitting under his desk or
pinned to a wall. “As a solution I began to send my work about the globe via
the snail-mail”, he says.

“This worked to great effect and I quickly ran out of art. I
was especially intrigied by the replies and how my work had actually become
part of someone’s everyday and how I had slightly ‘distrupted’
that person’s everyday. The reaction of these unsuspecting recipients was quite similar to how my work on the
streets intervenes in a person’s everyday. The electricity boxes take the mundane less
thought-about spaces in our city and attempts to turn them into something a bit
more beautiful or even a bit more tolerable at the very least”.

Eoin Barry working on one of his recent projects

Eoin would define urban art as a platform which he employs to disseminate his work freely and publicly.
“I own the biggest gallery in the world and its open 24/7 365 days a year. Urban art to me is a tool. A tool which can be used to integrate art into society and at a level which is easily accessible and free to all”, he says.

So does the creation of urban art pieces in a city create a positive and lasting impact on our social and economic canvass? Eoin is slightly dubious. “I don’t believe urban art really changes anything. Visually yes but in reality no”, he says.

“For instance you have a derelict site or space and an artist goes in and paints it and visually enhances the once bleak, miserable site. Now people don’t complain about the site anymore and it is no longer referred to as an eyesore. Success! But in reality has that work addressed any of the real problems? Why is the site derelict? Why has it attracted so much anti- social behavior etc. It can almost act as a smoke screen to the real issues. But it does provoke thought which I feels is urban arts most powerful attribute and any cultural activity that can do this should be actively encouraged”.

Urban Art project on Athlunkard St Limerick

Eoin challenges those who see urban art as simply ‘graffiti’ that ruins landscapes to take time to check the definition of graffiti for themselves. “Graffiti is a term that has been tarnished beyond use in the English vocabulary”, he notes. “Constantly work on the street gets referred to as graffiti when in reality graffiti is an activity which began in New York in the 50’s which involved getting your name up around the city as frequently as possible and in the best spots. That’s not what is going on in Limerick at the moment”.

Eoin doesn’t feel he gets his inspiration from the work of other artists but more so from the people and the environment of where he does his work. “If I was to name a few artists who’s work I really admire it would have to be the likes of Maser and Rask. Not only is their work technically ‘kick-ass’ they are also just great people and extremely active members in their communities”, he notes.

Some of Eoin’s work in Avile Spain

Eoin’s process of engaging in public pieces of urban art in Limerick city came about during his time at LSAD where I ran the Graffiti Society.  He was approached by Paul Tarpey and Limerick City Gallery to take part in a project which saw the first legally sanctioned wall in Limerick. The site in question was Athlunkard Street which unfortunately blew down in the recent storms. This project proved a great success and really demonstrated the positive aspects urban art can have in the community.

“Through my participation in that project I was asked to manage another project which involved the electricity boxes”, he says. “We were given seven boxes along Catherine street and seven artists were selected to complete the project. This project entitled Cathair Grá (City Love) is now in its 4th phase. The project to date has seen an aesthetic CPR administered to over 36 electricity boxes across the city bringing the streets to life. Our streets are a cities most valuable asset it is only right we treat them as so”.

So how does the process work? Depending on how many boxes are allocated Eoin will select artists from the community to take part in the project. The boxes are then photographed and allocated to the selected artists. The ESB are then informed as well as An Garda Siochana just to avoid any confusion on their part as what is generally deemed an illegal activity is legal for the day. Then the boxes are cleaned down with a few harsh chemicals to remove and residue that might stop the paint adhering to the surface.

“I generally try to have a print with me of the proposed image that will be on the box and these are given to the shop owners along the street just to re-assure them about what will be actually painted”, Eoin says. “I try to consult with as many people in the area where the project is taking place because these are the people that will be looking at the work everyday and I think it is integral that they are very much involved in the process”.

Some of Eoin’s work seen at the skatepark

The project is receiving overwhelming positive feedback from the people on the street. Eoin spends a lot of time talking to the people and explaining the project and would see this as the most enjoyable aspects of the work. The retailers again are delighted to see some positive activity along the street and it seems like the project is mutually beneficial to all involved.

Eoin’s relationship with the local authority has been both positive and mutually beneficial. “By working with them it has allowed me to realise projects that otherwise would not have come to life. They work worked quite closely with me on the projects and really have a great understanding of how art can be employed in the city and how it might be perceived”, he adds.

Eoin hopes to see the continuation of Limerick developing into a vibrant, stimulating and exciting environment in which young people want to live and work in and where all cultural activities are catered for and realised.

“We need a city that doesn’t switch off after 5 o’clock .  A city that banishes assumptions and where her citizens work side by side to generate a fierce pride, that will pay homage to our past and drive future generations forward”, he says

Eoin is currently developing work for another 12 boxes
along Henry Street and work will commence on these shortly.

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