Since arriving to Ireland, a couple of people have been very helpful in suggesting things that I should get out and see. Among them, (fellow photographer of street art) Emily was kind enough send me a link the Waterford Walls festival and the guided walks that follow the event.
The festival took place for a week in August and was the fourth edition. It attracted some top mural artists from around the world to come and add to the work from previous years, as Waterford continues to become a well established stop on the street art festival circuit. Each Saturday of September, there’s a guided tour of many of the artworks in what is becoming Ireland’s largest open air art gallery.
I’ve written previously about my method of seeing a new city being to research the street art sites prior to arrival and drop pins in a GoogleMap, before walking a route between them once I arrive. It usually takes me to the more interesting/bohemian/cultural parts of the city, many that a regular tourist trail might avoid.
You can see a few of these previous wanders here: Warsaw, Zaspa, Glasgow, Leicester, Bristol (twice) and Wrocław.
Murals and street art seem to be getting more popular, ‘hip‘ even! Murals are often the first attempt made to improve abandoned public spaces and the best work has some link to, or passes some comment on local issues. The walls that best lend themselves to such creations are rough, deteriorating surfaces that might have been exposed after demolition of neighbouring structures.
It seems that the large festivals, such as the one in Waterford, are almost always well ‘curated’ with only high quality work making it onto the largest walls, the youngsters and newcomers tucked away in spaces that can be re-used each year. Festivals these days are also usually run with the agreement of local authorities and planned well in advance, moving away from the art form’s roots in graffiti and vandalism.
What I found interesting in Waterford was the way in which the artists had adapted their designs to suit the surface that they had been given. Many were gable ends with stairwell windows set into them, but in every situation, the artist had found a way work around it, to the the point that the obstacles were often unnoticeable.
Also apparent was something I often notice when looking at this sort of work and that is that the murals seem to be respected by local ‘taggers’ and vandals. I’m not sure if it’s some sort of paint can code of honour, or if they just appreciate the skill and effort that has gone into each piece.
A word on our excellent tour guide Joe; an actor and local celebrity it seems, his guidance around the various sites, and background information gleaned from the artists that he’d spoken with as they were creating the work, added another dimension to the tour.
There seems to be a growing trend in large scale mural art for ‘photo-realism’ or extremely detailed portraits of people, usually with some sort of twist. For example, the Australian artist SMUG, whose work I’ve seen previously in Leicester, Glasgow and Limerick, has two pieces in Waterford, a few hundred meters apart. They feature incredibly detailed and realistic portraits of a fellow artist (the excellent DMC) and one of the event organisers, but both with what appear to be heavy colds given their bright red noses and watery eyes.
Further to my previous posts on intent in photography, what I was trying to do in this set is to not only show the artwork, but also record their surroundings and they how they sit in public space. I was also looking to record my trip. I chose colour because to show off the skill and effort that goes into these pieces.
If you click on one of the pictures below, you’ll be able to flick through some of my highlights from the walk…
Another thing that I like to do when in a new town, is drink a local beer or two. Not only are Metalman Brewing in Waterford city, but they also produced a special edition light pale to celebrate the Waterford Walls festival, with 50c from each sale going towards the project. I tried it at their excellent quayside bar – a solid 4/5 stars!
Finally, a map. If you should happen to find yourself in Waterford, use it to check out one of the best free art shows that you’ll find on the island…