29 July 2012 Edition
A brush with history
Hunger Strike mural artist inspired by revolutionary Russia, Mexico and Spain
“I’m a member of Sinn Féin and want to do that work on the ground in this great city but I also want to use my art to inspire people to think for themselves and take this country back from all those that would hold it back from its potential".
A MURAL TRIBUTE to the H-Blocks Hunger Strikers now greets visitors to Dublin on the main road to Dublin Airport and the North.
At the junction of Dorset Street and Gardiner Street sits The Auld Triangle pub and its 18-foot-side wall is now an arresting tribute to the 1981 Hunger Strike.
The mural features cameo portraits of the ten Hunger Strike martyrs within a funeral black ‘H’. Commissioned by the O’Malley/Russell Sinn Féin Cumann in Dublin’s north inner city, it is the handiwork of local political activist and artist Ivan Daniel (“with the able assistance of fellow activist Jim Sloan”, Ivan insists).
Ivan emigrated to Ireland at the turn of the century from St Paul, Minnesota. He says that, as an artist and sign writer, he is trying to use his work to “reawaken the dormant spirit of resistance and activism that we know is inherently still there in Dubliners”.
Inspired by the large works of Diego Rivera, the Mexican socialist painter of the 1930s and 1940s, and the strong graphic images of Soviet art and particularly the posters of the Spanish Civil War, Ivan has tried to combine these with his signwriting skills to illustrate the message of forging a new republic, inclusive and socialist.
With no formal education, in art or otherwise, Ivan learned his trade first as a silkscreen printer and then as a signwriter.
“The old boys I learned sign writing from in the United States were a dying breed in the 1980s and 1990s and so skilful and steeped in history, it was really inspiring.
“They were known as ‘wall dogs’ and so I’ve named my sign company after them – that and the fact I bring my dog, Otis, with me on most of my site work.”
Born in the mid-1960s to a socialist London-Irish family, Ivan first became aware of the situation in the North of Ireland at a young age.
“Bernadette Devlin was a big heroine in our household – particularly after she assaulted British Home Secretary Maudling in the House of Commons!” [Maudling had told the British Parliament that the British Army had only fired in self-defence on Bloody Sunday.]
“Then, as a young punk-rock kid, I watched the whole H-Block thing unfold and I joined in the demonstrations. I was in no doubt after that where I stood on ‘The Irish Question’.”
Dynamics in the family led to a move to the US and the next number of years were spent playing music in the burgeoning American punk scene.
Towards the end of the 1980s, Ivan was alarmed at the rise of neo-Nazi skinheads latching on to the music scene and he became active with Anti-Racist Action.
“I suppose it was in the early 1990s, while researching links between the White Power crowd and their loyalist counterparts, that I got involved with Irish politics again.”
Eventually finding “some good, sound comrades” through Noraid, Ivan became active in educational and fund-raising initiatives, the republican prisoners children’s programme and campaigned on issues stateside, such as lobbying for the Adams visa, protesting the prolonged holding and extradition of Joe Doherty, and the training of RUC officers at FBI headquarters in Quantico, Virginia.
Coming to Ireland in 2001 was a personal move and at first he had no plans to re-engage with the Republican Movement.
“I thought that things in the North were looking pretty good: the old unionist state was finished, people weren’t being killed wholesale, so, from the outside, what else is there to be done?”
A few years of living in Dublin during the boom, however, quickly made clear to him that there was a terrible disparity at play between classes in the 26 Counties, and that a stagnant and corrupt political elite was holding ‘the republic’ to ransom.
“I’m a member of Sinn Féin and want to do that work on the ground in this great city but I also want to use my art to inspire people to think for themselves and take this country back from all those that would hold it back from its potential.
“The nation secured by Connolly and Pearse, and not all that long ago, that still needs to be fully realised.”
Ivan is currently working on a series of tabletop murals for the Sinn Féin Bookshop in Parnell Square and is looking around for sites to bring to life more murals in these upcoming years of commemoration - firstly one for 2012 highlighting the women’s suffrage movement of 1912, then Jim Larkin and the Dublin Lock-Out of 1913, and culminating in a major one for 2016.
“I’d even consider doing one on the Ulster Covenant for 2012,” he tells An Phoblacht, “because, hell, without their actions, 1916 may never have happened!”