Somewhere in Dublin, a furry black and white gorilla may or may not still be crouching along the bottom of a dark grey wall, holding a paintbrush dripping with fluorescent pink paint. He’s admiring his guerrilla gorilla handywork. And on the bottom right, three letters: ADW.
When ADW calls me he sounds exhausted and admits to having stayed up all night completing this latest “illegal” outdoor piece. He placed the gorilla on “his” wall, near the Portobello bridge, where he first put up the now infamous Bertie Tiger stencil, depicting former boom-time Taoiseach Bertie Ahern sporting the face of the now defunct Irish celtic tiger.
ADW is an Irish stencil and sometimes guerilla street artist, originally from Dublin. His irreverent designs started popping up on the walls of Dublin over the last few years, identified with those three letters at the bottom of gratingly ironic images with politically charged messages.
He was recently listed on French online journalism hotspot Rue89 alongside Shepard Fairey in the US and Banksy in the UK as one of the rising “crisis” artists of the current worldwide financial crisis, flying the flag for Ireland on the international scene. That is something he says he was very flattered about.
“I couldn’t believe that to be honest, it was a complete honour.”
When the economy floundered, his job in architectural 3D modelling became less busy and he had more time to think about art. He had never painted outdoor before. When he was at school, he had no interest just tagging his name on a wall though he started practicing his ADW signature in his books.
He credits British street artist Banksy with changing the way he viewed art and his work has sometimes drawn comparisons to Banksy’s, who was one of the first street artists to bring politically-laden stencilling to the streets. ADW points out that anyone who does stencils that are even a little politically inclined is going to be compared to Banksy.
“There’s French Banksys, Spanish Banksys. Banksy changed what art could mean, everyone could understand his artwork, that’s what I try to achieve too. In the wake of him a lot of good street art has come about.”
He says he hopes that people see the difference, not least an Irish sense of humour in his pieces.
ADW isn’t just a street artist, a word he struggles with. “I hate to pigeon hole it, what I do is stencils. But I plan to keep pushing, printing forms, screen printing. I prefer to just say artist. Street art, urban art, various terms, it’s all art.”
ADW has run two solo stencil art exhibitions already, “Stensual” in 2010 and most recently in October when he unveiled “Pricks and Mortar”.
He is currently participating in “Now That’s What I Call Street Art”, an exhibition by Gallery Zozimus in Dublin which runs until the end of March. ADW also gets approached for office space commissions for example, but he enjoys live events, where he gets to show people the process of creating something from scratch in a set amount of time.
A spokesperson for the Irish police (an Garda Siochana) confirmed again this morning that any defacing of public property is considered criminal damage in Ireland.
Sometimes ADW gets permission to paint on private property during the day. Recently the Temple Bar Culture Trust allowed him to put up a piece for Valentine’s day, a cupid with love hearts.
“The legitimate stuff is nice, you get to spend time on it, but to have the balls to go out and do something where you’re not supposed to do it, it adds a little more to the piece!”
He recalls such an experience on Abbey Street in Dublin: “I had two friends with me on a Sunday morning at 9am and someone came up to us to challenge us. I had to come back at 7h30am the following week to finish it! It was just boring, metal corrugated iron on a boarded up shop, it doesn’t make sense to me, surely you want something to look more creative and colourful?”
ADW feels that you can’t easily draw the line: “What’s good to one person can be bad for another person, there’s places where you should and shouldn’t do it obviously and you should have respect for the area.” He’s noticing with amusement an increase in the use of street art techniques in advertising, creeping into modern culture and being consumed in many other manners.
“But painting outside is still illegal, though things are slowly changing. Businesses are copping on to the fact they can get their place decorated and looking good! A lot more legal spots will pop up.”
Ray Yeates, arts officer for Dublin City Council, says that graffiti and street art can be a rich part of the city’s culture if done in a way that adds value to the city.
He says that Dublin City Council can act as a broker between businesses and street art, in situations such as Maser’s large piece on the side of one of the Ballymun towers which was done in conjunction with the council.
“I can’t comment on illegal art, as Dublin City Council can’t encourage anyone to break the law of course, but there is a difference between tagging and art,” he says. “It’s very unlikely that an artist would have an issue with the Guards if the council was involved from the beginning. It can become a very rich thing instead of a nuisance”
ADW is never entirely happy with a piece when he does it but loves every one of them: “I could tell you something about each one, they mean a lot to me. I’ve pieces that I’ve not even got photos of, if I get just one photo I don’t mind if they are covered up but it would be nice to see them stay or last a little longer.”
The Irish street art scene is only starting to blossom now and get recognition according to ADW. He states a number of other artists including Will St Ledger, Solus and Maser as examples of the spark that ignites Ireland today.
“Everyone is going back to their creative roots in Ireland, it’s just such a creative, busy little place and it’s going to get better and better. Some of the best work is often created during a recession, the most thought provoking. People’s ambitions change. It’s exciting to be part of it.”