At the right place at the right time. In Dublin we were once again lucky to meet two great graffiti artists at work. Shortly before the lockdown and in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day, a Leprechaun and Kaa Snake mural by PENS and Kevin Bohan was created in the Temple Bar district. Of course we documented the whole thing and also had an interview with Kevin about his art and the Icon Factory Project. Here you can find the Making Of of that Mural.
Kevin Bohan came to art and graffiti via detours, but better later than never. For far too long he was working in unsatisfactory jobs, he didn’t pursue what was inside him, which eventually led to many years of depression. But the way out of the dark corner was finally painting and creative design. Art is his medicine. Over the years Kevin has done countless fantastic murals in Dublin and throughout Ireland, either on his own or in collaboration with other renowned sprayers.
In the interview he also tells us about his workspace and the gallery in the neighbourhood, the Icon Factory and the Icon Walk. A collective of artists has colourfully redesigned the run-down alleys of Dublin’s party district Temple Bar, providing information about important Irish personalities and events in music, literature or politics. The once dark, littered and avoided back streets are now an artistic attraction. Kevin has been involved in the collective for years and they are changing the facades of public buildings together with local artists and the residents, also he organizes workshops with children. As well he frequently gives friends and supporters innovative selfmade artistic presents especially dedicated to the person.
Kevin tells us about his career as an artist, about the development of the Icon Walk and gives motivating words about art in general and for others who may battle depression. For him, painting is like a therapy or meditation, he finds his resting point there and he also helps others find that access. Listen to the interesting interview in the audio, moreover, the conversation is peppered with Kevin’s artwork in the following page. Thanks as well to the other photographers, they are mentioned at the end in the Infothek together with all contact details.
I am very impressed with your work and the nice mural with the Leprechaun and the snake Kaa you did just before together with PENS.
Yes, it´s for St. Patricks Day, which is next week. You know the St. Patricks Parade has been cancelled here in Dublin due to the Coronavirus. Actually I am painting a collaboration mural every month for 2020. So this is the third one. And this month I was painting with PENS who is the best graffiti character artist in Ireland. I asked him if he would paint with me and to do something for St. Patricks Day. So I painted the giant snake. He is great with the characters and he wanted to do a Leprechaun. You know, it´s fun! And the snake is holding a flag with a little message. “Stay Safe”. It´s just for all the people out there now with this virus going around. It´s just a little positive message.
Like remembering the tradition and history, the snake story with St. Patrick and the Leprechaun. But as well to give the people a little smile and say, come on, it will be alright.
We didn´t want to do anything too corny. We wanted to do two cool characters. So the snake and the Leprechaun go well together.
When did you begin doing art? What is your story?
I never had a pencil out of my hand when I was a child. I used to draw all the time. All I ever needed was a black pencil or a black pen, and red pen. My mother said I always used to have a red pen because I always used to draw battle scenes. So I needed blood. I always drew. My dad was a draftsman. He was great, my mother as well is fantastic at crafts. She does a lot of arts and crafts. Unfortunately we didn´t do art when I was at school. I didn´t do it properly in secondary school. When I finished school I applied to Ballyfermot College, which is a big art college here, and I studied animation for a year. That was really tough and I wasn´t good enough. You have to be the cream of the crop to do animation. This is going back to 1991 and 1992. This is long before we had the proper 3D animation that we know today. And then I applied to the NCAD which is the National College of Art and Design here in Ireland. I applied to four art related courses in Mountjoy Square which is another college. And I didn´t get in. So I ended up doing print management office work. I studied that for three years and I didn´t draw or paint. I used to do photos when I walked, but I didn´t do any art more or less till around 13 or 14 years later. So I came back to art in around 2009 and 2010.
Was this the moment when you and the Icon Project came together? So this was actually a rebirth for you with art.
Well I wasn´t doing art when I was working in the print industry which is very high pressure. I suffered from bouts of depression. Sometimes very bad. And I used to drink too much. More than I should have and which is a very Irish way of dealing with things.
Ah, it´s not only an Irish way.
Yes, it´s not only Irish. But it´s definitely an Irish way. And I used to binge drink. So two, three, four days in a row. And the bouts of depression got heavier. In 2007 I went to the doctor and I got anti-depressants. But that same week I started counselling for depression as well, because I knew medication wasn´t the cure and that I would have to do the work. I have been going on and off for over ten years now, it´s more about management for depression and I am very open about it because I think we need to be.
I think as well because a lot of other people suffer as well. And It´s good to speak about it and to show it´s not only you, there are a lot of people suffering and sometimes it´s easier to listen to others how they are dealing with it and how they found a way to get a better connection to life and themselves. So it´s art?
Totally! And I realised that through going to counselling and trying to figure out what was wrong. And I realised one of the main reasons and that is quite obvious now, it was because I wasn´t doing my art. I wasn´t being creative.
You didn´t do what was inside you and you didn´t do what you were meant to do.
Yeah. And unfortunately I have a very black and white character. I am more grey now that I used to be. So if I wasn´t doing the art and I wasn´t being creative. I was being destructive. I had anger issues, I was drinking too much, I had bouts of depression like a lot of people. I didn´t drink more than my friends and I never drank at home or drank alone, but I drank too much for me. So in 2009 my father passed away from cancer and I was very depressed after that and very down. My partner at that time bought me a little dog called Calvin, a Shih Tzu. We used to live up at Grand Canal Dock, which is up near where Windmill Lane used to be, the U2 studio. I was walking Calvin twice a day and I started noticing all the graffiti and street art. This was in 2009. I already knew I needed to go back and to do something creative. And this totally fit in, it was meant to be. While walking around, it was always the same walks and I saw all the graffiti and street art and stencils and stickers. And I thought, what´s going on here? I never really paid attention to it before. So I started bringing my camera with me and before I knew it and this is what I was saying before with the black and white thinking, I couldn´t just take five or ten photographs. By 2015 I had about 30.000 or 40.000 photographs of street art and graffiti in Dublin. And in 2010 I did a web design course and one of the projects was to set up a website. So I set up a website and asked if I can use my photographs that I have been taking from graffiti and street art. And yes, I set up the website called Dublin Urban Art. By 2011 I had gotten to know lots of different street artists and graffiti writers. I had already started drawing and sketching again and I had gotten this push from seeing all the street art and graffiti. I had a sketch book and I was just doodling and just trying to find my way. Then in November 2011 there were four lads going painting at the laneway at the George Bernard Shaw Pub. And one of the lads I knew well at that time told me to buy some cans that I was going painting. I will always thank him for this. So I went and that was the first time I spray painted. In November in 2011. And then slowly I started doing it once a month, then once every two weeks till now when I am doing it all the time. Now I actually do it for my living.
And where is the depression? Gone? It never goes, but is it a better equilibrium now?
The depression is managed. It never goes. But it´s not about the depression, that is more or less gone. I have bad days now and again like everyone else. It´s managed and I am not on the medication anymore. I finished the medication after being on them for ten years. I gave up drinking. I don´t drink anymore and haven’t drank since 2011.
But you do something now which is fulfilling you.
Yes, as fucking frustrating as it is sometimes and with some of the bullshit which goes along with it, the self doubt and sometimes the low self esteem and the low self confidence. There are terrible bouts about, why wasn´t I asked about to paint at that jam or why wasn´t I asked to take part at that exhibition? I know a lot of artists go through the same. But it´s not too bad and you just have to keep on going. I do what I can. I´ve done a lot, as well some terrible stuff, but I wouldn´t take anything back. Everything has been a step.
Around ten or fifteen years ago you hadn´t even touched a spray can or thought about it. So a lot has changed.
Yes. I painted at Waterfall Walls three times and at the All City Jam twice. And if you would tell me ten years ago, even six years ago that I would paint at the All City Jam which is the big graffiti jam every year or at Waterford Walls, the biggest street art festival in Ireland. I would not have believed you. No, not at all. I would have walked away. It wasn´t even in my vision. But it happened and I loved it!
Let´s talk about the Icon Walk Project, because this is not only a big part for you but much more for the whole city and the whole area. Basically you looked on the dodgy and dirty small streets in the Temple Bar neighbourhood and tried to remodel them not only by art but as well with information about the city and the country, about Irish musicians or Irish writers. Tell me how this project started and how it developed.
I came in on the tail end of the project. In 2010 they opened the Icon Factory and in 2011 Aga and a man named Barney decided to start the Icon Walk. Because the laneways around here were in such disrepair. There was just rubbish everywhere. Shit, piss, syringes. It was just horrible. No one walked down them, no one took care of them, no one cared about them. And no one was coming down to the Icon Factory gallery next door! No one was coming down to this area, because it had such a negative atmosphere. Especially the locals would avoid it. So Barney who lived in New York most of his life during the 80s and 90s, he has seen what Mayor Giuliani did by cleaning up Manhattan with the broken window theory. So he introduced this to the back lanes. He was 69 at that time. Barney studied history when he was younger. Then he wrote a cultural history of Ireland from 1922 when we got our independence till now to sort of explain what it means to be Irish. Why the Irish are Irish? And to back up the narration almost like a graphic novel he asked different artists to produce artworks of Irish icons. Because culture is created by people and you always have the cream of the crop in any given cultural art form like sports or writing or music. That´s a country´s culture. A positive culture and not the industrial military complex. Ireland is renowned for literature. The biggest effect Ireland has had on the world stage would probably be in literature. We have produced some of the greatest writers in the English and Irish language. We won four noble prizes for literature. And he wanted to explain all that to people.
So It is not only the art on the street or to give a nice visual effect, it´s as education.
Yes, totally. It´s not an outdoor gallery, it´s not a walk of fame. It´s a cultural history of Ireland from 1922 till now. Initially it had ten sections. Literature, sports, music, actors and actresses, the Harry Clarke windows around the corner and a few others. Then you have the oddballs and crackpots section with people who sort of didn´t fit in anywhere else. Then in 2016 we put up a wall to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the 1916 rising and also a wall with just female writers. Because if you look at the literature wall there is shown only one female writer, Edna O’Brien. And we wanted to address that balance because it is quite sexist. The whole idea is to promote Irish culture and what it means to be Irish. It is educational. Not everyone wants to read the panels, but if you do you can find some funny stories about what makes us tick.
With this Temple Bar area here, I suppose ten years ago there weren´t so many murals around here. It developed all hand in hand with the project. Could you say that?
The Icon Walk artwork is all on aluminum panels. It´s all printed. Barney paid for the first print run out of his own pocket. It cost 25.000 Euros and I think one of his nephews donated as well 5.000. So it was 30.000 for the very first initial run. It’s probably gone up with everything including next door till 70.000 Euros over the years. Probably even more. We never got any government funding. We got some private funding from IPB Insurance and The American Ireland Fund. But everything else is from selling prints and mugs and everything else at the Icon Factory. That`s how the money is raised. Everything is voluntary. No one gets paid.
So that´s a way if people want to support you and the project.
Yes, they can donate or the can come in and buy something. The artist gets a percentage of it and the Icon Factory gets percentage. There is art from individual artists and as well from people who are part of the project.
Back to your individual art. How would you describe your paintings. I´ve seen you doing the one before, the snake, so a character. Is this your style? Are you more in characters or do you do as well lettering and bombing?
I never really did lettering. I´ve done a few here and there. Two friends of mine, Emily and Marianne used to call me K-BONE because I never really took a graffiti name, and they wanted to give me a jokename. I have never done graffiti properly and I have a lot of respect as well after photographing and meeting lots of writers over the years. I have a lots of respect for what they do. So I would never say I do graffiti. I don´t do graffiti and I say this out of respect for the people who do graffiti. Especially the ones who are climbing over walls and going to paint on trains. Whether it´s legal or illegal, you know, I am not going to pass any judgment on that at the moment. But I have a lot of respect for them. And some of the pieces they do with the letters, there is a craftsmanship to it. That´s an art form which blows my mind. I could never do it.
Could I call you a muralist?
I just say I am an artist. Or a creative person. Sometimes I do murals or I do computer illustration. I do these tribal dot paintings and sometimes a mixture of all.
Do you paint as well on canvas?
I do, I do. But it´s mainly computer illustration or murals. These are my two favourites. Murals because it´s therapeutic. I also do a lot of stuff in my sketch book which nearly always quite dark. That´s where I let the demons out to play. When I´m doing a mural I like to do something colourful and put something positive out there into the world. Today when I was painting the snake, I didn´t get much of a chance to get into the zone, because there were a lot of people coming and going and there were cars up and down the laneway. But sometimes when I am at a festival or painting down the country, you can get into the zone and everything just shuts out.
Like a kind of meditation nearly.
Yeah. It´s the best feeling in the world. Before you know three hours have passed in a blink of an eye. And you have something fantastic on the wall. That helps.
I am really impressed from exploring the city while we found many really nice good graffiti artworks and murals, stencils or little gimmicks. I didn´t expect to find that much here and so many good stuff. How would you describe how it developed in the city.
Well yes, it has gotten very acceptable lately in the last few years. In the last ten or fifteen years we had an influx of people from outside of Ireland. From South America, we have a lot of Brazilians, a lot of Eastern Europeans, a lot of Polish are coming over. And this is good. This is good to mix it up. In other countries as well. Ireland is a melting pot now. Then you have obviously the Irish girls and lads painting for years. The TDA Clan, or ACHES and MASER, RASK, SUMS, AKA CRAP. But yeah, there are a lot of younger lads and girls coming up. We have an all female crew called MINAW, which is the Irish name for women. They are not all Irish. There are lads who are doing plasters-cast faces, others to paste ups and stencils. The SUBSET crew are killing it at the moment. Between their commercial works they do a lot of other artworks. They are killing it! They have some of the best artists here in Ireland.
I have seen below a lot of works the #greyareaproject.
That´s going on for a few years now. That started with SUBSET who are having a discussion with Dublin City Council regarding planning permission and so on. They have a project called “The Grey Area Project”. A lot of artists are taking part in this.
You always have to explain why it is good to change this grey depressive wall into a colorful positive one.
Well, you are preaching to the choir here. I don´t know all the details, but there are decisions regarding planning permissions. You have to get permission from building owners and then the city council is saying you need planing permission from them as well. It is indeed a grey area.
The word “grey” in this project doesn´t only mean the wall. It also means this “Ulysses” journey to go through the grey bureaucracy.
There are as well a lot of walls in Frankfurt which could need some Irish paint style.
Yeah, I am up for everything. It´s just getting the money together.
Any plans for this year? You said in 2020 you want to do a mural at least every month.
I was in Memphis two years ago for “Paint Memphis”. I met a lot of friends over there. I met some great American painters. So I would go back, if not for the barbecue, but for sure for the painting. Well, the collaboration murals, every month is great. I am working on a lot of stuff at the moment, it´s pretty busy with work and other bits and pieces. I am working on two exhibitions. For one I was invited by the Polish Arts Festival which I think is in May. There is a coffee shop called the Art Café and myself and one or two Polish artists will present their works. I am looking forward to that. And then in September I am doing a Beatles theme exhibition with a friend of mine called Marianne. That´s going to coincide with Peter Jackson´s new Beatles documentary which will be out in September. We will have the showing either in the studio here or in the Icon Factory Gallery next door. I am not sure which. That´s called “Here is another clue for you all” which is a lyric from ome of their songs. We are doing a bit of a different take on the Beatles myth through illustration and painting. Therefore I have to finish some more pieces. So I am looking forward to that. And I am a big Beatles fan obviously.
If listeners now are interested and want to get more insight into your art or if somebody wants to contact you, how can they find you?
Well I´m on Instagram and on Facebook. The two usuals. I don´t have a website at the moment. On Instagram it´s KevinBohanArt or the same name on Facebook. I do commissions and illustrations and obviously mural commissions as well. And I would like to say to anyone out there who is struggling with depression or anything like that. It might not be spray painting or it might not be art, but they know that inside of them there is something. It could be football, could be going to the gym, could be art. Pick up the pencil, kick the football! We all have something. Everyone has something. Find out what it is! Because it is the one way out. It is the one way to progress. It has helped me and it has helped a lot of my friends. Loads of the artists I have met have struggled with the Black Dog. You know. Whatever it is, do it! Just fucking do it! And you know, the first month, the first year, the first two years, the first three years are going to be shit. But every so often you going to get a little glimpse of hope. All what I can do is to seize to make me feel better and keep at it. That is what I want to say to anyone. Keep at it! You might not be the next Banksy or the next whatever. But if you can get up and it gives you a reason to get up out there when you are feeling low. Just do it! Even if it is just walking around with a camera like I did myself. I found that very therapeutic.
Find yourself and what´s in you!
Yes. It´s different for everyone that´s the gist. But that I suggest. Everyone has the own path to go. And we only get one shot, so take it. Carpe Diem. At some days you won´t feel like it. But when you get over the hump, there is always a little hump or whatever it is. When you get over that, it´s alright. When anyone of your listeners comes to Dublin, pop by to see us at the Icon Factory. Or if any writers or street artists know that they are coming to Dublin, give us some notice. Maybe we can paint a collaboration on the wall. As well I can show the writers where to paint.
Dublin Urban Art: https://web.facebook.com/Dublin-Urban-Art-286941637998294/
Bob Dixon: https://www.bobdixonphotography.com
Down to Earth Community Arts: http://www.creative-connections.ie
Joseph Kennedy: https://web.facebook.com/joseph.kennedy.77398
Marco Novara: http://www.marconovara.com
Martin O´Brien: https://www.facebook.com/martinobrien42
Mel White: https://www.maximillist.com
Monica Manzzi Barlocco: https://www.facebook.com/artphotobymonicamanzzi
Pikasso Helder: https://www.facebook.com/pikasso.helder
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