Adding colour to the walls across Dublin, James Earley is bringing street art out of its sub-cultured roots. By spray painting concepts onto walls, Earley is proving that street art is more than just stylistic.
Dublin.ie: How do you feel street artists are perceived?
James Earley: Some people have this idea that as a street artist, you could be stand-offish, but that’s not the case at all. The majority of us are very open and want to get people involved. I’ve met a lot of people when I’m working on walls in the city, asking ‘will ya put my name on it’ or ‘can I have a go’ – they’re gas craic!
I used to do pieces in Windmill Lane, the Bernard Shaw, at the back of Liberty Lane, the back of the Opium Rooms, hoardings that would come and go
Dublin.ie: How did you get into street art?
James Earley: During my teens I started getting interested in sub-culture, the likes of skating, basically anti-establishment stuff and I was looking at the graphics in the skate magazines. I lived out by Dún Laoghaire and was getting the DART a lot, I started to see graffiti along the tracks and around Temple Bar. I’d never seen anything like it before. I wondered how did they do it at night? How did they manage to scale it up? Why don’t they use their real names? You can form this other identity around yourself and I was really drawn to this in a big way.
Dublin.ie: Where did you practice graffiti growing up?
James Earley: I studied graphic design in NCAD and I was painting a lot of graffiti while going to college. I did a lot of graffiti-based letter pieces. I used to do pieces in Windmill Lane, the Bernard Shaw, at the back of Liberty Lane, the back of the Opium Rooms, hoardings that would come and go – they were legal to paint on. Then there’s really hidden abandoned buildings, like massive warehouses where there is nothing for miles and nobody cares. I stopped doing illegal stuff a long time ago, I wasn’t keen to keep on doing it!
Dublin.ie: Has your heritage influenced your work in any way?
James Earley: We have a long background of art in the family. That started with stained glass artists. Up until the 70s my grandparents were fine artists. I chose to go to NCAD because a lot of the past family went there. It’s actually gas chatting to my gran about the place. ‘They used to come around with coffee and tea and the maids would be there’, she says. It all sounded very grand: a contrast from the cans of Dutch when I was there!
I think the recession kicked the crap out of the art scene on the funding side of things, at the same time people became more resourceful
Dublin.ie: Has the stained glass background had an influence on your work?
James Earley: I was getting bored of painting graffiti-based letter pieces. Conceptually there is no depth to a letter- based graffiti piece, it’s all about the style and constantly working with the same letters because that’s your tag. So I began looking at the family history and looking at stained glass. I started working on painting a series of animals, there’s still a few of them around Dublin. That was the first link in with stained glass.
Dublin.ie: Can you tell us a bit more about the series of animals?
James Earley: The first large one I painted was for the Dublin Contemporary exhibition. I had a piece, a huge big stag which basically represents the great Irish elk – which is extinct. At the height of the recession, it was a symbol of what Ireland used to be. This animal represents strength and presence. It’s to give Irish people hope but at the same time it’s actually kind of crumbling and falling apart now! What I wasn’t expecting is the general public really latched onto it. When people found out about the stained glass background they realised there is a lot more depth to this, spray painting a concept.
Dublin.ie: How do you find being an artist working in Dublin?
James Earley: Brilliant, absolutely love it. The opportunities that come about are made by your own interest in trying evolve your work. If you want to get involved with an art scene the best way to do it is to create a lot of work and engage with others through that. With every project I work on, I give 100 %. Once you’re known for being reliable, creating work that resonates with people and getting on with people, it’s a big help.
Dublin.ie: How is the art scene in Dublin?
James Earley: I think Dublin, culturally, is on the up with art. I think the recession kicked the crap out of the art scene on the funding side of things, at the same time people became more resourceful. People became very creative and a lot of amazing work got done in a bad time. It’s getting better but I think there needs to be a lot more funding and a lot more opportunities given to large exciting events, outside of the run of the mill gallery events. A couple of different things like Offset, the design conference, have been great. There needs to be something more art- based, so artists can come and speak about their work in an accessible manner so the general public don’t take the mysticism out of art. I think the general public are spooked by fine art.