Thursday, February 22, 2007

Asbestos: The Man Who Lost Everything

Its easy to swoon over at Wooster Collective about the imagined variety and talent of the international street art scene hubs like New York but we really need to go ahead and admit that Dublin has been relatively lucky this past while. One reason for this is Asbestos, who has been sustaining his one man bombardment of the city with a "Lost" sticker series mimicing the classic street poster calling for sightings of a lost dog. While digital cameras and wallets may easily fall from your handbag as your heel collapses over the cobblestones of Temple Bar on a Saturday night, Asbestos' stickers more lose the plot and commit small tales of randomness and contradiction to lamp posts in pursuit.

His best work was an earlier series of Doll heads pasted all over the city in ambitious A2 size cut out photocopy and smaller versions backed onto various pieces of plaster board and wood. This production method of pasting graphically altered photographs onto various found backings was wholly new to Dublin and has only slightly been taken up since as a solid alternative to stickering.

The Asbestos style prompted several similar efforts ( 1 , 2, 3 and 4) from myself some summers ago, with my usual blend of enthuasiasm and impatience set aside they could have turned out better. You can view plenty of Asbestos works over here and also on his chokingly well designed site. I got a nice surprise when I arrived home one evening to see that my girlfriend had found one such gold leafed doll head on her way home from work. When a similar piece sits in a gallery for nearly 200e you can be sure there was no ethical dilemna about removing it from the market and placing it on our own wall for the eyes of the many street art fanatics we know.

Who is Asbestos?

A street artist based in Dublin.

What or who influences your work?

Wow! Influences are many and wide. I take a lot of photographs so people like Martin Parr, Zach Gold, Martha Cooper and Boogie have influenced the photos I take. I’ve also been influenced by artists such as Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Swoon, D*Face, Ron Mueck and Faile. But all art and design I see around me will influence me. I love the feeling I get when I see something new and exciting that makes me want to work even harder at my art.

What sort of music do you listen to while working?

I like a lot of ska, Mf Doom, The Knife and anything that’s got an ounce of passion.

Have you any tactical advice for those planning on erecting work in the streets? Banksy for instance advises that drunk nights will result in some great work but some arrests as well.

Being drunk does help as you can feel a bit odd at 2am when everyone else is drunk and lairy. I suppose it’d just a matter of keeping your eyes open, having a mate out with you doesn’t hurt. I like to look around during the day for good spots that I can hit at night. You want to find spots that are visible where you know your work will last longer than a few days.

Why did you take the name Asbestos? It's a material you use a lot right?

Street art is a little bit like Asbestos. Asbestos is all around us, (in the walls and in the very fabric of many buildings) but it often goes unnoticed. When we realise that it's there it really gets our attention and we question it and it gets discussed. When I started putting work up on the street, that's what I wanted my work to do, to become part of the fabric of towns and cities and to make people notice, question and discuss what's really around, the name Asbestos represents my message perfectly. As for the material Asbestos, I’ve not used it as I’d be a bit paranoid about giving myself lung cancer so I use plasterboard for my Dolls heads.

From the Dolls heads and some sporadic lost stickers there was a gap of about a year in any real street level output from you. Why was this and how come there has been such a sudden resurgence of activity from you?

Just like the rest of the world I was trying to pay the rent, and was also doing a lot of travel. I’ve also taken a long hard look at the work that I was outputting and decided last year that I needed to focus my style, concentrating on painting and more handmade work. I love the idea of putting up uniquely painted one off pieces on the street. I started doing more of these paintings in the run up to my show ‘Hope & Despair’ with Canadian artist Other in The Bernard Shaw last year. I love this new direction, so you’ll be seeing more of my paintings on the streets. I’ve also done a lot more Lost stickers (36 different ones to date!) and have put up over 2000 of them all over Dublin and London in the last few months.

I noticed some signs on Henry St warning Saturday shoppers of 'dry paint' paint on lamp posts - was this, you?

Not me I’m afraid, but strangely enough I did put up a few Dry Paint signs about three years ago. Not saying that this person is biting me as I put up so few they may have gone unnoticed. I’ll have a look out for them though.

How do you feel about people picking up some of your stuff like the tile work off the street and bringing it home? Don't you find it funny people can do this while others pay money in the likes of Cool for the same?

I’d prefer that someone takes a piece down because it inspires them, not because they want to destroy it. When I put something up on the street I relinquish all control over it, if someone wants pull it down then I can’t stop them. But I don’t think it’s strange to sell work in a gallery as I think it brings my art to people who may not have seen it before or who’d prefer to leave my street stuff on the street.

What exactly were the Doll heads all about?

The Dolls Heads represent innocence, their eyes blindfolded from the evil of the world – lonely icons of lost souls. I love doing them on plasterboard with gold leaf as they’re like little jewels for the public to find. Some people love them others get a bit freaked out by them.

When will you run out of ideas for the lost series?

How longs a piece of string (actually that’s a good idea for a new one). But yeah I’ve got lots more sketches in my black books. When they start getting really stupid I might stop them, but for now I’m still enjoying them.

What was with all the genetically challenged animals?

Too much cheap wine and a dodgy copy of photoshop.

In Portobello there is a large more traditional mural piece with your name on it - do you come from this more traditional writing background or was this a once off? How did you get involved in street art?

That piece was done by some of the guys who were over for the Eurocultured event in Smithfield last year, they signed it with the names of all the artists who’d painted at the event that day. I’ve always loved the traditional graff movement and got interested in it when I found a copy of Subway Art as a kid, but I never painted graff. I got into street art years later when I started seeing art by Faile and Swoon in New York. I realised that there was no reason why I couldn’t try the same.

How do you feel about the way ICN and others have scrawled all over
Dublin - do you see it as visual piss or writers delight?

I kinda like it. The thing about tagging is it can be ugly and is the simplest form of graffiti, but it’s still the most democratic act that a kid can do. I like seeing tags in a city as it means that there’s a heart and personality to the community. When I go somewhere without street art or graffiti I feel that something is not quite right. ICN are the most up people in the city as is Grift, so I gotta take my hat off to them, they’ve really hit this city big time.

Do you feel more attachment now to the gallery scene or the street art scene at the moment?

The street art scene is always my first love. I think a lot of galleries sell stale art that they know they can sell to bland middle class people. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t good galleries that takes chances. I don’t need to sell my work in galleries but it has challenged me to do different things with my art.

Remind us again what the Secret Santa Swap was and how important it was in the street art global community?

It was a desire to make peoples Christmas a bit happier by organising a Chris Cringle between 300 street artists. It turned into huge event with some great art being produced, but I’m not sure if I’ll do it again as it took over my life for a few months. But it was worth doing for a couple of years as the reaction and excitement from artists around the world was inspiring.

Friends have noticed some D*Face material appearing in
Dublin - are you putting up these as some relationship of exchanging favours?

A relationship of exchanged favours, how dare you! But yeah, he was over here a few weeks ago and we went out pasting. He got about 10 or 15 posters up, most of them have been torn down by now, so I may have to get him back for some more street improvements! It’s good to see some more stuff on the streets of Dublin.

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