Sonny Sundancer

The following guest post is by Houda Lazrak

Earlier this year, I visited Waterford, Ireland, the country’s oldest city — approximately 100 miles south of Dublin. Best known for its exquisite crystal, Waterford has also become, in recent years, a street art destination. Using the arts to rejuvenate urban space, its annual street art festival, Waterford Walls, has transformed Waterford into Ireland’s largest and most accessible outdoor gallery. 

While there, I had a chance to meet Waterford Walls founder, Edel Tobin, at its headquarters, and speak with the nonprofit’s Assistant Project Manager, Gabe McGuinness, as we strolled the streets together:

You are based in an interesting building right in the center of the city. What an ideal location!  How did it become the site for your offices?

Yes, it’s great! The building was donated by a local family. They wanted to see what we can do with it to develop the arts in Waterford. 

Lucky you! The festival was initiated a few years ago in 2015. How many walls have you produced since?

We are up to 180 walls at this point. And we try not to paint over any previous ones.  

Why Waterford?

It started with a community garden project spearheaded by Edel.  From there, she got the ball rolling to showcase public art.

How did you become involved? 

I came to visit the festival one year, absolutely loved the project and applied for a job!

Can you tell us something about your background?

My background is in archaeology and geography. I am interested in integrating the arts with these disciplines. I also studied cultural policy and arts management. I’ve produced music festivals, and I’ve done production management for short films.

Just when does the Waterford Walls festival take place? And what goes on during it?

The festival takes place annually at the end of August. This year it will be held from August 22-25. We invite artists to paint, of course, but we also host other activities — such as panel discussions and talks on themes around public space. And we organize children’s workshop and set up live music events, among other things. 

Which neighborhood does the festival take place in?

In the first years it was in the city center. Starting last year, we expanded and brought it up to a hillier part of the city called Ballybricken. 

How do you go about finding and selecting artists?

We invite two or three headliners each year, and we also have an open call. Artists are encouraged to apply to the open call, which is generally held from September – December. The  selection committee then determines the final roster. We have hosted artists from all around the world and Waterford-based artists  — like Caoilfhionn Hanton — as well.

Is there an overarching theme each year?

No, there is no brief for artists. We ask them to create something based on what Waterford represents to them. We encourage them to spend time in the city before painting to seek inspiration from the local culture and history. Some of the common themes are: nature and animals, Irish folktales, Vikings, marine-related motifs and the famous Waterford Crystal factory.

What has been the impact of the festival on Waterford?

It has helped develop O’Connell Street as cultural quarter of the city. It has encouraged creative industries to come into Waterford. We also do focus groups with community members and ask what they would like to see. Their input serves as a basis for our five-year plan. Like I said, we’ve focused on the city center, but we want to expand to bring public art to the outskirts, as well. 

And what about the locals? How have they responded?

We’ve gotten a lot of support from the Waterford community! Some of the hotels give us free storage space during the festival and local businesses offer lunch to the artists. We also get emails from people saying they want to give us walls for the festival. Unfortunately, many walls are made of pebbledash, or roughcast, so the surface is tricky to work with. It’s basically plaster with pebbles thrown on it. They are okay for abstract murals, but details don’t work well. There are also local businesses who want to sponsor walls, so they pay for the entire production cost. Some of the murals have also been totally appropriated by the Waterford residents. The seated elephant by Louis Masai, for instance, is adored! There would probably be protests if it were removed!

What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered in seeing such a momumental project through?

We are well-known among artists but not by the general public. Most people in the next big town over, Cork, don’t even know about us. We are trying to change that. We started doing weekly guided tours on Saturdays from April to November, and we offer private tours, as well, for tourists or other visitors. We also host tours for schools interested in branching out of the more traditional Celtic art taught in class. Another, more practical, challenge is that artists often request walls without windows, which are hard to come across! The festival is also a non-profit, so it relies heavily on sponsorship. The last two years we’ve been sponsored by German Montana, but it’s tough to find funding. More and more people are coming to Waterford specifically for the murals, though, so that helps with fundraising. 

Yes! Myself included! The murals brought me here to Waterford! We wish you the best for the future. And we are looking forward to the 2019 edition! 

Images

1 Glasgow-based Australian artist Smug, Portrait of Waterford Walls curator, Louise Flynn

2 UK-born, Johannesburg-based Sonny Sundancer

3 The itinerant American muralist Arcy

4 Irish artist Shane O’Malley 

5 Waterford-based artist Caoilfhionn Hanton 

6 The French Monkey-Bird Crew

7 London-based Louis Masai

8 Dublin-based Ominous Omin

Photos and interview by Houda Lazrak

Note: Hailed in a range of media from WideWalls to the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

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Founded and curated by Miami-based Registered Artist, the Second Annual aWall Mural Projects took place in Miami from Dec 1-9 bringing a diversely rich range of artworks to The Santa Clara Elementary School in Allapattah. Featured above is the hugely talented Asian artist Sheep Chen at work on a delightfully playful, brightly hued mural. Several more images — all captured by travel and street photographer Karin du Maire aka Street Art Nomad — at Allapattah’s Santa Clara Elementary School follow:

Project curator Registered Artist

South Africa-based Sonny Sundancer

UK-based My Dog Sighs 

New York-based Tom Bob and Texas-born Asian artist Emily Ding

Emily Ding, closer-up

And New York-based Key Detail at work

Photos by Karin du Maire aka Street Art Nomad

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Two brilliantly conceived and beautifully executed murals – one by Sonny Sundancer and the other by ASVP – surfaced last month on the exterior walls of IS 318 in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Sonny’s mural– at the corner of Lorimer Street and Throop Avenue – depicts a Yawanawa girl from Acre, Brazil, along with a jaguar, representative of a species that is sacred to the indigenous peoples and at risk of extinction. ASVP‘s black and white tower mural — painted on the opposite wall — features an elephant, bear, tiger and more, all interdependent and threatened or endangered in some capacity.

While visiting the school last week for the murals’ dedication and ribbon cutting, I had the opportunity to pose a few questions to Greenpoint Innovations founder Stephen Donofrio, who had organized the The Point NYC project.

These hugely impressive murals are one component of The Point NYC initiative. Just what is The Point NY?

It is a collaborative venture — among Comics Uniting Nations, Greenpoint Innovations, Hypokrit Theatre Company, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and UNICEF — that brings together artists, producers, educators and local environmentalists for a series of artistic productions and events. Among these are: a comic book, public murals, a theatrical experience, open dialogue and an educational toolkit.

What is its ultimate mission?

Its mission is to respond to the human impact of climate change and to exercise the power we all have, particularly the youth, to take action for a better future.

And what inspired the direction that this project has taken?

It was inspired by a comic book story —Tre, by Sathviga ‘Sona’ Sridhar — about a climate change superhero. Sona had become passionate about climate change when her town in Chennai, India was flooded and when she heard about the Climate Comic Contest by UNICEF and Comics Uniting Nations, she decided to submit her art.

How did you connect with Sonny Sundancer and ASVP? Their murals are perfect for this project, as they are exquisite and brilliantly reflect environmental issues.

Karin du Maire introduced me to Sonny, and I met ASVP at the Moniker Art Fair in Greenpoint this past spring. Both Sonny and ASVP were ideal to work with, as they are not only wonderful artists, but caring people.

Were you presented with any particular challenges in seeing the project through?

Coordinating with the Department of Education was somewhat of a task. And then discovering that a segment of the wall that Sonny had completed had been coated to protect it from any lasting paint was another challenge. But – with considerable effort — we overcame them both!

How have the members of the local community responded to these two murals?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. They love them.

And thank you for initiating this project!

Photo credits: 1 & 2 Lois Stavsky; 3 Karin du Maire aka Street Art Nomad; interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; 

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Based in Johannesburg, UK native Sonny recently brought his extraordinary talents and passion for animals to NYC. I had the opportunity to speak to him when he took a brief break from painting a massive mural overlooking Allen Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

What brought you to NYC?

I am here to launch my first mural in North America for the To the Bone project in partnership with IFAW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

What is the mission of the To the Bone project?

It utilizes street art to increase awareness of animal conservation and to raise funds to rescue animals in crisis throughout the globe.

sonny-sundancer-mural-close-up

What spurred your engagement in the project?

Living in South Africa surrounded by animals, I developed a passion for them. And painting them on huge murals is a positive way for me to do street art and pay tribute to the beauty of these animals, while raising attention to their plight.

Where else will this project be taking you?

In the weeks ahead, I will be painting in Canada, Russia and in India.

What are some of the other animals represented in the To the Bone Project?

Among them are a rhino, a leopard, an elephant, a bear and a gorilla.  There will be a total of ten, with the gorilla the face of an upcoming exhibition in London.

sonny-sundancer-paint-spray-cans

You’ve also painted several canvases and released prints in coordination with this project.

Yes. The original artwork will be exhibited and auctioned off, with prints of the works available online — with 10% of sales donated to South Africa landscape work and IFAW’s work with tigers in Russia. Among the original works are hand-painted skull replicas that showcase endangered animals from around the world. These paintings show the animals’ faces breaking away to reveal the raw skeletons underneath, symbolic of how these beautiful creatures are quickly fading away.

Can you tell us something about the patterns that adorn your works? 

They are tribal patterns from the animals’ countries of origin. When we lose these animals, we’re losing a part of our heritage too. That is the message conveyed by these distinct patterns.

Sonny-Sundancer-mural-art-Jelani- Johannesburg

Your murals are stunning. Have you a formal art education?

No. I’m self-taught. I painted my first large-scale mural three years ago.

That’s quite impressive! Are there any muralists out there who have inspired you?

Among these whose works have inspired me are Case Maclaim and Faith47.

Sonny-Sundancer-mural-art-canada

How can folks support your project?

They can visit our website to learn more about the To the Bone project and buy artwork. And they can help us raise money for the IFAW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare by donating here.

Good luck with your project.  And we are thrilled that you launched the international tour of To the Bone here in NYC.

Images:

1-3 New York Lion

4  Jelani, Johannesburg

5 Grizzly Bear, Cambridge Street Art Festival, Ontaria

Photo credits: 1 Lois Stavsky; 2 & 3 Karin du Maire; 4 & 5 courtesy Tess Cunliffe

Note: Hailed in a range of media from WideWalls to the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

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