Roscommon native Joe Caslin was one of the winners of the Arthur Guinness Project initiative for his large scale portrait project “Our Nation’s Sons”. The street art installations, seen in Edinburgh and on Achill Henge, in County Mayo, aim to highlight and empower the marginalized young men in Ireland’s society.
Caslin an art teacher, street artist, and illustrator studied illustration at the University of Edinburgh. In spring 2012 the first striking images, some 40-feet high, were seen around the Scottish city. This September these haunting faces of modern youth were installed at Achill Henge, in Mayo, and this is just the beginning. Caslin plans to install these large-scale drawings of young men around Ireland at specific locations throughout the next year.
He told IrishCentral “All locations will have significant resonance within each community”.
The aim of this Roscommon man’s work is to highlight those young men at the edges of our society who feel neglected and deep apathy. Caslin’s aim is to empower these men and give them some sense of belonging.
Being a young man himself Caslin is among the generation of Irish youths hit by the economic collapse in Ireland, since 2008. With unemployment and comes demoralization and depression but this can also breed a fighting and creative spirit.
Caslin told IrishCentral “Many of my friends have been affected by the so called 'brain drain'. Emigration, depression, poverty and apathy are all part of daily life now. But so too is talent, grit, determination, hope and optimism.
“I have watched countless numbers of our young men cope and flourish but I have also witnessed the journey of those who fall and crumble. We as a nation have systematically sat back and allowed far too many fall. Preventing the fall is difficult, but breaking the fall can simply be a well placed helping hand at the appropriate time.”
In the past the young, innocent, stern faces that Caslin depicts have been compared to the famous hooded photo of Trayvon Martin, the black teenager from Florida who was shot by George Zimmerman while on his way back from the grocery store.
When asked about the comparison Caslin explained “The project 'Our Nation's Sons' began about a year before his tragic murder. It was a pertinent and somewhat defining influence to the story.
“My drawings are of street kids. Lads that have been callously demonised using collective guilt by association and insidiously damning methods of generalisation about their appearance, heritage and way of life. Trayvon's image portrays the inevitable final stage to this demonisation. It is an image now purposely etched in our minds eye.
I began to draw these hooded portraits long before Trayvon died. The paste-ups were always set to become linked and somewhat associated to the now infamous image and case. Their subject matter and meaning are inextricably connected. There seems to be a planned purpose.
Caslin went on to refer to his statement on his website which reads:
“I cannot fix the complex problems of apathy and disillusionment by simply sticking a drawing to a wall. However, I can create something more meaningful than any bureaucratic promise and generate a more positive social impact than many published articles, political broadcasts or speeches.
“A drawing has the power to go further than words. But a series of large-scale drawings have the potential to resonate and disrupt the visual landscape of an island, town or city. It has the power to pull a passer-by from the mundane, the power to trend and the power to gain real social momentum. It will re-establish respect for and showcase the capabilities and power of our nation’s sons.”
Over the coming year Caslin plans to “disrupt the visual landscape” of specific communities around Ireland and it is his hope that “young lads from each local community to form the backbone to each individual installation”.
For more information on his ongoing project visit joecaslin.com.
Here’s the video on the installation of “Our Nation’s Sons” at Achill Henge:
What Irish phrases you need to learn before you visit Ireland