Artist James Kirwan likes to take a break from doing fine art in the studio so he grabs any chance he can to paint murals outside, he says.
He’s had some high-profile commissions. Including, last year, when he painted one on the new Facebook European HQ in Ballsbridge.
Sometimes he paints shop shutters too. In some cases businesses have commissioned and paid him to do these. In other cases, they haven’t.
“Some of them I’ve just gone out and done myself with no commission,” Kirwan says laughing.
In the last few weeks, Kirwan has painted the shutters on two premises on Meath Street. One was commissioned, while the other was not, he says.
Around the same time, also on Meath Street, a group of female artists, sponsored by Irish whiskey brand Roe & Co., painted a number of shutters to celebrate the local women of the Liberties.
The two different approaches to street art are adding colour and contrast to one of Dublin’s most characterful streets.
Kirwan says he only started painting shop shutters fairly recently. “I’m always looking for new spaces to paint,” he says.
He used to do graffiti art in spaces designated for it, like the former Tivoli car park or the now closed Bernard Shaw pub, but those kinds of places are few and far between nowadays, he says.
“Finding places for people to go and paint and hang out, or meet up, is a constant battle for muralists or graffiti artists,” Kirwan says.
On the other hand, there is no shortage of disused buildings in Dublin, which present ample opportunities for art, he says.
“People seem to like it,” says Kirwan. “If it is something colourful, abstract and cheerful, people would tend to leave it there and not paint over it.”
Kirwan can’t explain exactly how he chooses which shutters to paint. “When I’m out and about walking around, if I walked by it a few times and noticed it was closed, I would drop a pin [using Google maps] on it,” he says.
Sometimes he chooses the place because he feels the area needs a bit of colour, he says. He recently did some shutters on James Street opposite the Digital Hub, he says. “There is a lot of grey, boring walls on the street there,” he says.
He lives on Meath Street and one day recently he spotted that the Fashion Parade clothing shop was closed down. “I just asked an auld lad who was standing there did he know,” says Kirwan. “He said it had been closed as long as he could remember.”
In a couple of hours, Kirwan transformed those grey shutters with a colourful, abstract, mural.
After that, a teacher he knows, who works in the Steiner School, a school which offers an alternative method of education, at the top of Meath Street, asked Kirwan if he would do theirs. They had some graffiti on the shutters that they didn’t like, so he did them a turn and painted their shutters too.
When he is painting outside, he works quickly and would do an entire shopfront in an hour or two. “It’s enjoyable. It’s a nice contrast to working slowly in the studio,” he says.
The only downside to painting outside is that your work can get tagged (meaning when someone writes their name in spray paint), he says. This is fairly annoying but you just learn to accept it, he says. “I don’t get frustrated by it anymore because it just happens so much,” he says.
A Local Icon
Robyn Carey, who is part of the art collective Epoch, has been painting on Meath Street recently too.
Her work was part of Mná Meath Street, a celebration of the women of the Liberties, sponsored by Diageo’s Roe & Co Irish whiskey.
Most of the women celebrated by the project were historical figures, like revolutionaries and social activists, Carey says.
But together with Sophia Vigne, she was given a loose brief to do an abstract piece on the local street traders, she says. They started doing research, and soon found Kathleen O’Connor, who is “an icon of the area”, says Carey.
O’Connor has been trading on Meath Street since the 1960s and is the fifth generation of her family to work there. “She is gas, she is just a character, so we wanted to make a piece dedicated to her and the flower sellers,” she says.
Carey wrote a short poem about O’Connor as part of the artwork. She was delighted with the reaction from locals. “The thing that I loved the most was the feedback from everyone in the area,” she says.
As the Shutters Come Down
As the shutters come down on business premises across Dublin for the coming weeks, and maybe even months, can we hope to see more of this artwork brightening the streets?
Carey, who also did the shutters for Pieces furniture shop on South Great George’s Street, certainly hopes so.
Commercial work is something that the Epoch collective are receptive to. “It is something that some businesses want,” she says. “As long as we don’t go on total lockdown.”
There does seem to be more interest in shutter art in Dublin recently, says Kirwan. “It has built a bit more steam,” he says.
Kerb Junkie and Decoy are two other artists doing shutter work to look out for around the city, he says.
He too would like to get more commissions from businesses too, but if he doesn’t he will keep painting shutters, adding a splash of colour to areas that need a lift, he says.