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Extract from - 'Murals' by The Bogside Artists (2001)

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Text: William Kelly, Tom kelly, Kevin Hasson ... Page Compiled: Martin Melaugh

The following extracts have been contributed by the authors William Kelly, Tom kelly, and Kevin Hasson, with the permission of Guildhall Press. The views expressed in these extracts do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
front cover The following extract is taken from the book:

MURALS: the bogside artists
Written by: William Kelly (2001)
With contributions from: Tom Kelly and Kevin Hasson
Documented by: Paul Kelly

ISBN 0-9541232-0-4 Paperback 112pp £11.95

First published in 2001 by (and orders to):

The Bogside Artists

Guildhall Press

Unit 7, Meenan Square

Unit 4, Ráth Mór Centre

Bogside, Derry

Bligh's Lane

Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland

BT48 9EX

BT48 0LZ

T: (028) 7128 4123

T: (028) 7136 4413

This extract is copyright The Bogside Artists (© 2001) and is included on the CAIN site by permission of the authors and the publishers. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this extract for other than your personal use without the express written permission of the authors or the publisher, Guildhall Press. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.

From the back cover:

Ba mhaith horn buiochas agus moladh a thabhairt di Ealaiontóiri Taobh an Bhogaigh as an tsaothar samhlaiochta seo atá déanta acu - na ceisteanna tabhachtacha seo a chur in airde, ceisteanna atá an - Tabhachtach don phobal in nDoire.
The contribution made by the Bogside Artists in recording the events of the last thirty years through their wall murals cannot be overstated. The artistic creativity and clarity of their message is to be commended.

Gerry Adams,
President of Sinn Féin; MLA, MP

These murals tell a story, make a political point or record events from recent local history. They are a powerful medium; they represent a genuine form of creative expression that has emerged from the community. The Bogside murals are splendid examples of original, popular and imaginative political art of the period and deservedly attract great interest from tourists and locals alike.

Most Rev Dr Edward Daly,
retired Bishop of Derry

A crucial question to ask of any art is, ‘Who is it for?’ This is not easily answered in the case of a great deal of twentieth-century modernism, but it seems clearer, at first glance, in the case of the murals in this exhibition.

Noel Sheridan,
Provost of the National College of Art ft Design, Dublin

The Bogside Artists give us the real People’s Art of Northern Ireland’s time of trouble. Their big murals in Derry raised the practice of mural painting to a level of sophistication, compassion and deep expression of their community’s hurt that has not been attained elsewhere.

Raymond G Helmick, SJ,
Professor of Conflict Resolution, Boston college


Foreword by Brian Friel


Preface by Dr Neil Jarman


A Brief History of Derry




A Sketch of Irish History


Tom Kelly


Kevin Hasson


William Kelly


Article Published in The Irish Times on 7 August 1993




Wall Painting


Our CV


The Petrol Bomber


The Petrol Bomber Mural




Bernadette Mural


Operation Motorman


Operation Motorman Mural


Bloody Sunday


Bloody Sunday Mural


Puppets and Banners


Hunger Strike


Hunger Strike Mural


The Rioter


The Rioter Mural


The Bloody Sunday Commemoration Mural


The Death of Innocence Mural




Our Workshops


The Murals in Context


The Documents of Hell (by William Kelly) / Caught Up


Exhibitions Abroad


The Boston State House


Other Work


The Painting: Let The Light Shine


Technique and Perceptions


Frequently Asked Questions


The Peace Process


Bogside Murals (by Craig Czury)


Requiem for Modern Art (by William Kelly)


Brian Friel
Internationally renowned playwright and author

The work of the Bogside Artists is celebrated locally and internationally, but it is their reputation that is important both to the artists and to their locality.

The work is remarkable in that it is simultaneously a vibrant response to events still vivid in the psyche of the community and, even as it testifies, it transcends those immediate passions and proposes an historian’s distance and objectivity. The work says: You know the people in these pictures because they are your neighbours and your allies and you know what they endured; but have you thought about them in this way as a people caught up in a chaos of tumultuous events and at the same time taking control of those events and shaping a new destiny? Because we, the Bogside Artists, believe that that is what has happened. That is what we are talking about.

This dual vision is made insistent by the theatricality of the events depicted, by the almost surrealism of the painting technique, by the political awareness that animates every event depicted, and, of course, by the very scale of the work and its dominant location in the centre of communities.

This is work of conscious ostentation, of deliberate defiance. It is work that Diego Rivera would have approved of. But it has delicacy too. Every mural explains - but it also embraces. Every mural instructs - but at the same time each has the intimacy and the consolations of a family photograph.

These murals tell the city about itself, what happened to it over the past seventy years and what futures may be available to it. I suspect the Bogside Artists have a lot of excitement squaring up each new virgin gable and a lot of fun endowing it with eloquence.

They are important people.
I wish them well.


The social context in which we work is, at one and the same time, a geographical area and a psychic milieu that bristles with a heightened social and political consciousness. That is why we are asked reasonable and often difficult questions from people all over the world:


Why did you decide to form a group in the first place?

Tom had been working as a muralist since 1984 with the Outreach Programme of the Orchard Gallery. He was a pioneer in the field, seeing in art a valid and effective means of reconciliation. Tom’s lifelong friend Kevin Hasson and, later, his brother William joined him in mural making in 1993 after Tom had left the Orchard Gallery. They completed their first mural together in October 1994. William had been a freelance artist who had exhibited his work throughout Ireland. For him, it was a natural transition to join the group. All three were profoundly disenchanted with the gallery circuit and how it was run. All three had grown up in the Bogside and had witnessed the worst of the Troubles. They agreed that it was necessary for the Bogsiders to take back their own story from the milling machine of the British media and to tell it in a way that both edified and instructed. One has to remember that the Bogside was a bleak wasteland in those days where the pallor of the 1972 atrocity hung over the place like a shroud. We felt that the biased reportage of our history, as it was relayed back to us by television, radio and newspapers, did not do justice to the abominable suffering endured by a people over such a long period. We felt this all the more keenly, as we ourselves were part of it.


What do you say to people who think your work is propagandist and inflammatory?

at work on mural We are well aware of the difference between propaganda and art. It is mainly a difference of intent. We are chronicling history - no more, no less. To do otherwise would be an insult to our craft and a sin against our calling as creative witnesses. True, those who choose to see otherwise must take the integrity of our endeavour on trust. We like to think that the style of our approach makes our purpose clear. We do all we can to distance what we express and how we express it from the character of propaganda. Neither racism nor bigotry has any real place in art or any other form of communication. Also, we paint what we decide to paint. Freedom of expression is a fundamental democratic right for which men like Solzhenitsyn (to name but one artist out of many thousands who have been persecuted for claiming that right) paid dearly. Art, too, has its martyrs.


What obstacles have you encountered before, during and after you have begun work?

at work on mural To get the money to paint each of the five murals we have completed so far for the Bogside we have gone collecting from door to door. These murals therefore really do belong to the people in every sense of the word. We like that idea. Elsewhere, the public’s attitude to artists is ‘ . . . well, they would do it anyway, for nothing.' This is true of all vocational occupations. It explains why nurses, teachers, social workers etc (those, in fact, who help more than anybody else) are badly paid. Take the vocational and voluntary workers out of the picture and the world would crawl back into the jungle over night. Artists who ‘make it’ in the art world are feted in the same way as Ronnie Biggs was feted for escaping from prison. Biggs, to give him some credit, managed to escape back in.


How much local support do you receive?

The actual making of the murals has been greeted with support, even from the Protestant community, many of whom were as distressed about Bloody Sunday as were the Catholics of the Bogside. Local artists, who view themselves as hip with what is fashionable in modem art, do not consider our work ‘contemporary’, a fatuous argument from our point of view, insofar as our work cannot be other. What they mean is that we are not ordering the world to suit our purposes, which is what is in vogue in the art world at the moment. We are expected to kneel at the shrine of sensationalism and novelty as if we could inflict that nonsense on the people of the Bogside. Modem art so-called is this; you must order the world as if you were God, but you must do so for the hell of it (there being no valid reason left, presumably, for doing anything). God is capricious, chaotic and absurd, like the rest of His Creation, and closely resembles Jean Paul Sartre on a pub-crawl, and if thou wouldst walk in His likeness, thou too must be capricious chaotic, absurd etc. We have been approached by many capricious etc contemporary artists anxious to work with us so that they could hoist their neglected flags to our mast. In every case we have declined.


Do the murals serve any real purpose?

Whether you are prepared to admit it or not, these works are very popular and internationally known. They draw in large numbers of tourists, thereby keeping the tourist industry happy. Tourism in Northern Ireland employs some 34,500 people. That is a heavy investment for a place whose population numbers 1,700,000. Hotels in the city, taxi firms, restaurants, pubs, hostels and private entrepreneurs all have a stake in the popularity of our work. We state these as simple facts, since it was never our intention to create a tourist draw. It is simply a byproduct of the successful fulfilment of the vision we conceived for the Bogside from as far back as 1993. Over and above the commercial benefits they may bring to Deny, the murals serve a much deeper and, to our mind, more crucial purpose. They function as talking points for the local population. They assist in the process of reflection on times and events lived through. In so doing, they assist in objectifying the past in a very positive sense and in this way they are curative - profoundly so. Had they been badly painted or been, as our critics demand, ‘contemporary’ with all the inevitable obscurantism that involves, they would have failed - and we with them. They also raise self-esteem, encourage artistic endeavour in the young, give pride to the old, and last, but not least, lend a definitive and unique character to that area of the city that is recognised the world over. The artists, for their part, are committed to completing the remaining five murals for the Bogside, which together will give a coherent and accurate chronicle of the key events of the Troubles that continue to shape our present.


Do you get paid?

No. All our work has been done on a voluntary basis and will continue so. The cost of an average mural, depending on scale, can cost anywhere between £600 and £1,000 bearing in mind we use only paint and brushes and not expensive spray equipment or high-power projectors. Were we in the business of showing off our skills at the expense of what we are trying to express, we might very well go down that road. All ‘our’ murals belong to the people and will remain in place according to their will.


How long does it take to do a mural?

Depends on the weather. We have tried painting under a tarpaulin roof, but our work suffered and so did we. A mural can take anything between two and six weeks.


at work on mural


How can three different artists with three different world views manage to paint in harmony?

If there was a methodology to this, we would be happy to give it. But the fact is, we do not permit our varying views to jeopardise what we believe to be much more important, viz our friendship. The secret lies there. We are also aware of the idolatrous worship of ego that currently fuels the art world. We keep well away from it. ‘Me-My-Work-and-I’ is not a platform on which you can hope to express anything worthwhile. You serve the craft if you love it. If you don’t love it, you should not be in it. And if you do love it, you will not abuse it, or, least of all, debase it by offering it up to the promulgation of racism, bigotry, false beliefs, demagogic worship, or any other form of the evils that afflict us.


Do you think art is over-rated?

Birds sing: men make art; it is a natural human activity; where would we be without it? Man does not live by bread alone, but where is the starving man who would not swap his Rembrandt for a loaf of bread? In other words, life itself and the respect for life is what is primarily important. Art these days is money. Is money overrated?


Do you think the work institutionalises the struggle?

No. That’s like saying jazz has institutionalised the struggle for justice. What hasn’t, in those terms? Jazz, as a music idiom, may be institutionalised, but not its content. Today’s antiestablishment menace is tomorrow’s money-spinner. And what do you mean by struggle? The class struggle? The establishment loves the rebel even before it gets rid of him. If, in his lifetime, Ché Guevara had received all the money made from his posters since his death, he would be sifting where Fidel is at the moment, only smoking bigger cigars. The day we give up creativity is the day we stop asking the arts councils to fund us and adopt the more reliable method of scratch cards.


Who have been your major influences?

Well, there have been a few. The Unemployment Bureau springs immediately to mind. Then, of course, there’s the Oxfam Shop, the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul’s, Help The Aged, Bill Gates, Al Gore, our beloved Goebbels, Jean Claude Van Damme, Salman Rushdie, Thatcher, the Hotspur Annual 1967, Les Patterson, Germaine Greer, and the very late Frank Sinatra.


CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

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