Joe Caslin’s ‘Our Nation’s Sons’ project has been highlighting the potential of Irish young men through the medium of street art, there has been a series of imposing and memorable paste ups all across Ireland. We caught up with Joe to talk about the project and discover why the issues and the project are so important.
You went to ECA in Edinburgh, Was Our Nation’s Sons originally born in that city?
Yes and no. It was conceived in Ireland but it’s birth took place in Edinburgh. It spent its infancy there but soon returned home to its native soil.
The project aim’s to showcase the potential of young Irish men. Unfortunately, there is no household in Ireland that has not been touched by emigration, unemployment, mental health issues or suicide. These issues have been pandemic within young Irish males in particular. The project aim’s to highlight these issues but it also aims to show the strength and potential of the young Irish men within every community be it village, town or city right across this island.
Tell us about the birth of the project?
I don’t buy into stereotypes and the current portrayal of young men through the media is shameful. It is not my experience as a teacher. Yes I come across racism, violence, sectarianism, poverty but I also see power, god-given talent, empathy and determination on a daily basis. I wish to acknowledge how it is, but my main aim is to shine a light on how things can be. To have a front row seat as I watch a young man join our crew, to facilitate him finding his voice and for him to make a powerful statement to his community through an installation is extremely rewarding.
How did it come to be extended to Ireland?
I’m Irish so to bring it home gave me a great sense of pride.
It’s been a fantastic project and it’s created a lot of awareness and activity around the pieces. The first time I came across it was the pieces on Trinity. Is there any pieces left to go as we find ourselves in the close of the year?
I have just finished a piece in collaboration with Pieta House – a suicide prevention charity, on the Powerscourt Town Centre. It won’t have a long life but the building is stunning. Pure torture to install but well worth it for such a noble charity. Pain for gain. I am due to speak at Other Voices in Dingle in mid December so I might throw something up while I’m down there!
Yes. Watch this space…
Is there anything you would change about it?
Yes, I have worked very hard in establishing working relationships with city councils. I always ask to speak to people face to face as it is far too easy to say no through an email. The bureaucratic entity you begin your dealings with quickly mellow and become much more manageable when you speak with people.
They pick up on your energy and become willing partners. I also need so spend more money documenting what I’m up to. I’ve missed out filming some incredible interactions with our crew and some incredible installations.
It is a medium that speaks to such a large section of our population. Street art has gained a strong foothold in communities and the public demand to be educated and provoked. Street art itself has evolved, artists who have been around while have to shout less and less. They have more time to develop, to reflect, to create. Sometimes I walk through a city not looking at the ground just looking for the perfect site for a new piece. Certain spaces and certain walls hold specific emotions. I love finding forgotten spaces or buildings people just don’t see anymore and give them a new energy.
The medium is large paste ups. Was this your favourite option to execute the pieces?
Yes. This generational grouping has been pushed right out of view. Now you cannot but notice them.
Describe your art in 5 words?
Meet. Draw. Print. Paste. Repeat.
Is there anything or anyone you really want to portray that you haven’t yet?
The story is just under three years old so I have a long way to go yet. I never know who will be the face of the next piece until I go to that city and meet the lad. It could be anyone.
What influences your creative process now?
George the Poet. My brothers. Channel Four. Chance meetings with strangers who tell a great story. The kids I teach.
What would you say are your artistic influences?
Smug. Felice Varini. Da Vinci. JR. Steve McQueen. The Book of Kells. Conor Harrington. Ernest Zacharevic..
You’ve had some really fantastic sites for the pieces, what’s the support been like?
Both a pleasure and a pain. We have lost some magnificent sites but have also sealed some extraordinary ones.
How do you find your subjects, do you know them personally?
Yes and no. Sometimes I will visit a local school, youth centre, drop-in centre in the city I aim to next work in. Sometimes I will meet complete strangers in the street. Sometimes chance meetings will sow a seed for a future piece. I have an ever lengthening list of subject matter forming.
Has this selection changed over the project?
No, it is so haphazard that change would not effect it. Who’s your favourite artist at the moment? I just watched Duncan Campbell accept the Turner Prize. What a great role model for young Irish artists.
Do you have any big projects coming up after this year?
Yes. Keep your eyes peeled. I don’t wish to chance fate but I have a very interesting collaboration forming.
What does the future hold for Joe Caslin?
No idea. Saying that I would like to hold my first solo exhibition sometime early next year.