Kathriona Devereux: Gobsmacking art spruces up city, but there’s lots more to do

As new murals pop up around Cork City as part of the Ardu Street Project, Kathriona Devereux welcomes the bursts of colour, but asks what more we can do to clean up our city
Kathriona Devereux: Gobsmacking art spruces up city, but there’s lots more to do

A new mural by Dublin artist Asbestos, created for Ardú 2021, South Main Street, Cork, as part of Ardú Street Art project. Picture: Artist Asbestos

I WAS sorry to see her go. For the past two years she had become a familiar and welcome face in the mornings. I never knew her name but she was a splash of colour in a grey streetscape. And now she’s gone.

Bishop Lucey Park’s giant mural of a woman sitting in water holding flowers disappeared recently. I had never looked her up before but once she disappeared I wanted to know who she was and what had happened to her.

I found out that the artwork was called Woman with Dog and Mexican Fleabane and was painted by Australian artist Fintan Magee, a man who surely has a bit of Irish in him.

I don’t know what verb to use to talk about the work of creating enormous art on the exterior wall of a building. ‘To paint’ is completely inadequate to describe using a cherry picker, paint, spray cans, stencils and many more materials to create a gobsmacking artwork.

Renowned Cork born artist Conor Harrington working on a new mural at Bishop Lucey Park, Cork, as part of Ardú 2021. Picture: John Beasley
Renowned Cork born artist Conor Harrington working on a new mural at Bishop Lucey Park, Cork, as part of Ardú 2021. Picture: John Beasley

The wall wasn’t blank for long as the Ardú Street Project had commissioned internationally renowned, but originally from Cork (have to squeeze it in), artist Conor Harrington to replace my water based friend. The new work is a lush, rich mural and it’s wonderful to have a new person to tip my hat to in the mornings.

I’ve been harping on for something to brighten up the corner of South Main Street and Sullivan’s Quay for years and the new mural by artist Asbestos is certainly attention grabbing. 

It’s an image of a person wearing a sad faced, house shaped cardboard box on their head. It’s to draw our attention to the housing crisis. On Instagram the artist said the artwork asks “What is home?’ Do you have one, is it safe, can you afford it? Never as a country has our sense of what home means been more at threat.”

It’s particularly arresting, given that the image is looking down on the former location of the nightclub Sir Henry’s which was demolished in 2003. 

For almost 20 years the site has been an eyesore. Its hoardings were temporarily spruced up by the People’s Republic of Cork’s joke Metro plans but even that smile in the mind is flaking and fading.

In the intervening years that site could have been an apartment building, a park, even a youth community centre to teach the next generation of street artists the skills to transform mundane city walls. Yet it sits idle.

Another nearby unused spot is the glass pod outside the gates of Bishop Lucey Park. It once housed a Gloria Jeans café and I can’t even remember how long it has been closed for. Surely it is a prime location for some business venture given the right leasing conditions. That’s part of the problem when vacancy and dereliction become normalised.

Our expectations of places being occupied and open and looking good are lowered. If places like the Grand Parade Kiosks (the one next to Electric is also vacant) are not being used then maybe Cork City Council needs to reimagine their use.

Although, considering the success of Three Fools cafe outside the library and Soma café on Tuckey Street, if another successful coffee shop opened in the vacant glass pod on Grand Parade then Cork City Council could start marketing it as the ‘Coffee Triangle’, to go along with the ‘Victorian Quarter’.

While we are in the process of sprucing up some of the gable ends of buildings, how about a big tidy up on the streets of Cork too? 

First to go is the signage for businesses that don’t exist anymore. The orange building on the corner of Patrick Street and Drawbridge Street has a large sign for ‘LIFE:STUDIOS,’ a business that hasn’t operated there for 15 years.

Once you open your eyes to these signs for businesses past they are all over the place. An old flag advertising the long closed, and aforementioned, Gloria Jeans Cafe still hangs at the back of the Savoy and I often wonder do Royal Liver Assurances still have offices on Patrick’s Quay because there has been a sign advertising their existence there my whole life.

A day on a cherry picker with a screwdriver and some fresh paint would declutter the Cork streetscape no end. And those red circular signs cable tied to poles and street lights, welcoming us back to the city that we share? They need to go too. The original sentiment was nice after the first lockdown in 2020 but has become meaningless clutter that I want to snip off every time I pass one. And can we please have a complete ban on garish plastic signage that looks like it was designed by a TY Student in the 1990s who printed it out on the biggest laminator they could find. Vaping stores I’m looking at you!

I know in the greater scheme of things these are unimportant first world problems. Fixing dereliction in the city to address the housing crisis should be a priority but they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Order and beauty and aesthetics have meaning and resonance for humans. Great European cities like Amsterdam or Paris are beautiful because someone cares about making them so. The Ardú Street Project is making unassuming corners of Cork beautiful, let’s elevate our ambition about what the rest of the city can look like too.

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