Wonder Walls“I am lucky that I get to create work that brings that conversation to people in an important and sometimes, in a beautiful way.”

As heard on The Ray D'Arcy Show

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Ray D’Arcy spoke to street artist Joe Caslin ahead of the broadcast of a new documentary on RTÉ2, Wonder Walls: The Story of Irish Street Art. Joe is one of the people whose work has been shaping the debate and conversation  on some of the big social issues of recent times.

Joe filled Ray in on his background. He studied glass-blowing, but just after taking his degree in the National College of Art and Design, one of the country’s biggest potential employers in the field was no more:

“The year I qualified, Waterford Crystal shut down.”

Joe turned to teaching art in secondary schools as well as creating murals and large artworks on buildings around the country. Ray asked him about a piece he created,  Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine, which is mounted on the former Ard Rí Hotel in Waterford.

“The piece was about mental health, but looking at Ireland’s specific journey through mental health. And around that time we had begun to understand that it was OK to ask for help, that there were people within your family and your social circle and your community that were willing to hold you up when you needed it and willing to clasp their arms around you.”

Joe spoke about his deeply personal connection to the issue:

“My personal mental health story is, like us all, it’s kind of good and bad. I’ve lived through trauma like everybody else, but I deal with my trauma through the act of drawing. Then on the other side, as I said at the start, I’m a teacher and in my first five years of teaching unfortunately I lost five of my students to suicide.”

He spoke about the bonds that can build up between teacher and student and the impact that this loss  this can have:

“They are an amazing energy to have in your room and they are a pleasure to be in the same space as. When they are gone it’s sore.”

Joe Caslin says that he feels street art has a contribution to make to the narrative around mental health and that he’s happy to be a part of it:

“I am lucky that I get to create work that brings that conversation to people in an important and sometimes, in a beautiful way. Because there’s a lot of negativity that’s in it, the drawings are trying to create a positive.”

Joe also talks to Ray about some of his work that’s featured in the National Gallery of Ireland and his street art that featured during the marriage equality referendum in the full interview here.

The documentary, Wonder Walls: The Story of Irish Street Art, can be seen on RTÉ2 Monday night at 10.10 and Wonder Walls will be available to watch soon after on the RTÉ Player.

If you’ve been affected by anything mentioned in the conversation with Joe, you can access the Samaritans helpline 24/7 on 116123.

Ruth Kennedy

© The Listener 2019

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