Monday, 4 October 2010

They Are Us - Maser and Damien Dempsey

They Are Us is a tribute to Dublin, a tribute to the city: northside and southside, the visible and the secret, the good and the bad. They Are Us was initially conceived by Maser, and grew out of a previous art project, 'Maser Loves You', which involved a series of positive messages being placed around the city. His work is directly inspired by a passion for his hometown: 'Dublin is a central theme in my work. I spent some time traveling and painting when I was younger. The more I traveled, the more I realised how great this city is. I loved it more from being away.'
Spending more time painting on the streets, Maser became increasingly aware of the parallel city: the partly-hidden world that exists in the spaces away from signs inviting you to 'register your interest now' or places with 'upward only rent reviews'. 'When I'd be painting, I used to meet a lot of homeless people and addicts, they would end up hangin' out with me for the day. I ended up seeing a lot of strange things, some good, some bad, but all things that make up this part of the city.
'Around the time, a lot of the work I was doing was with quite rounded, inviting typefaces. A lot street artists works are very negative, focusing on the negative elements of society or anti-establishments. I don't want to do that - I don't see the point, it's us on the ground level who have to see this everyday. After a while, I found myself writing almost hopeful messages to them... things like 'Urban Achievers' instead of 'Underachievers'.
This theme of hope led to a connection with musician Damian Dempsey. 'With my work, I want to portray a positive message, but still address what I encountered on the street. And that is what Damien Dempsey does with his music. I think my work is reflective of what's in Damien's music. He's a local hero to me. His words have weight behind them, people listen to them. And I thought it would be interesting to intertwine what we were doing.'
The pair began collaborating - Maser selecting sites, and Damien supplying words, some old, mostly new. 'I think 99% of his words are ones that from his notebooks. A few are lyrics that I love, and thought would be ideal for a certain sites.
The link between the project and the city is furthered by Maser's chosen style for They Are Us: primarily known as a graffiti artist, this project sees him present his take on Dublin sign-writing styles of the 1930s to the 1960s. 'I chose sign-writing (as a style) because I wanted it to appeal to as many people as possible, not just graffiti writers. So I started researching Dublin sign writing from the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s: that was an artform in itself: the typefaces they used, the leading and layouts. It's a homage to certain people like Kevin Freeney, the sign writer, who back in the 1930's, rambled through Dublin's streets on a bike or with a pushcart carrying his paints and brushes. He painted over 700 pieces around Dublin town. So, I thought this was an ideal medium because, in a way, it relates to Damien's music: the concept, the content.'
The project covers a variety of sites across the capital city, and includes works in St Patrick's Institution. 'I'm not sure why I wanted to work there,'says Maser, 'I just know that I wanted to interact with people in a different environment - just like the Dublin I see painting at night is a different environment, so is the institution. I wanted to experience it, to see what it was like. I wanted to stay there also - but I'm not sure if they would allow that!' As part of the collaborative process, Damian Dempsey performed a gig for the inmates at Mountjoy. In addition, Maser also hosted sign writing workshops for the inmates.
All proceeds raised by the sale of artwork from this project will go to the Simon Community. The aim of the project is to raise funds to purchase a medical van to provide assistance to people affected by homelessness.

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