Dublin street art under threat

David Attenborough image courtesy of  SUBSET.

By Geneva Pattison

Ireland is the country of saints and scholars, of rebels and revolutionaries and, of course, a long legacy of creativity. This essence of freedom and artistry is ingrained in us.

However, more recently there has been a palpable shift within the city’s capital. Sometimes it feels that, as new hotels loom over the streets of Dublin, the colourful tapestry of creativity woven throughout our city is slowly being unravelled. In its place, we see corporate blandness.

One group trying to combat this is the Rathgar-based collective SUBSET. The group is challenging the perceived norms surrounding street art and are proposing that the removal of such artworks is the removal of an expression of Dublin’s cultural identity.

Their first large-scale project was a photorealistic mural of the Grime artist Stormzy in 2017, now included in a collection of past works entitled “Grey Area”. SUBSET were ordered to remove the painting by the council, despite reports of it boosting tourism in the area. 

A number of other pieces were part of the “Grey Area” collection, including a mural of Rubber Bandit and lauded mental health advocate, Blindboy Boatclub. The piece was originally accompanied  by a monochrome image of Donald Trump wearing a cap that read, “Make Dublin grey again”.

Trump was eventually replaced with a painting of the iconic musician Luke Kelly. The two much-loved Irish creative powerhouses placed side by side garnered a lot of attention, with media outlets such as the Independent, Joe.ie and the Daily Edge writing about it.  

Having been in correspondence with Dublin City Council for the last two years, their battle seems to be continuing. This year, SUBSET received orders for the removal of their mural “Horseboy”, which displays a striking image of a young boy sitting on a horse and is located on Stirrup street on the Northside of the city.

The group started a petition to save the mural, and now has close to 6,000 signatures supporting the art collective’s position. In August, SUBSET updated the petition, announcing that An Bord Pleanála will make an official ruling on the matter this December. Even more recently, the DCC ordered that SUBSET’s David Attenborough mural located near Portobello should be removed. The piece was painted, to celebrate “the life and work of David Attenborough, as a nod to his fight against the desecration of our planet and its wildlife” as stated on SUBSET’s website.

However, this mural is just one part of a much bigger picture. The collective have also said that they wish to use the Attenborough mural dispute to highlight a High Court case that the organisation, Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), brought against the Irish Government.

The case, also known as “Climate Case Ireland” took issue with the government’s Climate Action Plan and was filed in 2017. Earlier this year, the High Court ruled in the government’s favour. The FIE are appealing this ruling. 

NewsFour got in touch with SUBSET to get some more information on the subject  

Q: What is your art manifesto? 

We aim to provoke thought and support dialogue regarding important social issues. We want to transform our country to an open air gallery and we want to assist in its recognition as a cultural trailblazer.

Q: What do you think of the DCC’s Public Art Programme? 

Not without merit, but contradictory.

Q: Do the policies outlined in the proposal strategy of the Public Art Programme give street artists enough freedom of expression? 

We don’t believe so. 

Q: How do you feel about the public support you’ve been receiving via the petition to save “Horseboy”? 


Q: What inspired the piece “Horseboy” ?

The original photo of the young lad on the horse was taken on Smithfield Square by Australian Photographer James Horan. We came across it and reached out to him to see if he’d allow us use it as the basis for a piece. While we were painting, Stormzy, the tenant of a house (located near the mural) asked us would we paint his wall. Horseboy was the result.

Q: Your David Attenborough mural was attached to a larger issue, that being  FIE’s Climate Case Ireland. Considering your tie to the historic proceedings, have you tried reaching out to David Attenborough himself for a few words on the subject of art or climate? 

We reached out to his people but we imagine they were too busy with more pressing matters.

Q: You mentioned on your website that you would keep creating artworks and remove them upon DCC’s request, until you painted a piece of art you felt shouldn’t be removed. Have you painted that important artwork yet? 

We don’t believe that any artworks should be removed on the grounds by which they are at present. But for ourselves, we have to consider how the situation would affect us. No doubt it will be a difficult and long drawn out process so we have to be cognisant of when we can afford to take that step. We don’t do things in half measures so we need to be prepared and zoned in on the task at hand. 

SUBSET also wanted to give a shout out to the organisation Inner City Helping the Homeless (ICHH), for their tireless work helping people on the streets of Dublin navigate and escape homelessness. The collective have worked closely with the ICHH, which saw SUBSET raising €23,000 for the charitable organisation through two exhibitions, creating a magazine and a documentary screening. 

The positive impact SUBSET have made in Dublin’s cultural scene runs deep. They’re creating art which tackles difficult subjects like the housing crisis, climate change and mental health. Making art based on these topics is the imaginative and creative act that will keep the conversation going amongst the public. Whether you are a fan of street art or not, SUBSET are fighting the good fight to keep the artistic heart of Dublin beating through these strange and ever changing times. 

To learn more about SUBSET and their work visit: https://store.subset.ie/