© National Gallery of Ireland
Joe Caslin, Irish, Irish, b.1985
Title: Alice Mary Higgins, Independent Senator
Date: 2017-2018
Medium: Archival print on Hahnemuhle photo paper
42 x 59.4 cm
Credit Line: Purchased, 2021
Object Number: NGI.2021.31
DescriptionBorn in Roscommon, Joe Caslin is a street artist, illustrator, art teacher and activist. Best known for his beautifully rendered drawings which manifest as towering murals, his highly accessible work engages directly with the social issues of modern Ireland. In October 2017, as part of the education programme supporting the National Gallery of Ireland’s major retrospective exhibition Frederic William Burton: For the Love of Art, curated by Dr Marie Bourke, Caslin was invited to participate in a long-term project. Finding Power is the result of this project, and the culmination of Caslin’s in-depth investigation of Burton's work and the role of the artist or public persona.

During the project, Caslin looked closely at the power that comes with public platform, and the significance of having (or indeed losing) agency and control. Caslin was fascinated by the circle of friends and sitters Frederic William Burton kept. Caslin decided to establish his own panel of people, which he felt represented various aspects of society today where power, or lack thereof, is an issue. In order to inform his practice fully and consider the topic in contemporary society, Caslin connected with a panel of both public and private figures, to produce a series of photographic portraits. The people he engaged with came from a cross-section of Irish society. They included:
• Sinéad Burke - academic, writer and advocate
• Alice Mary Higgins - Independent senator
• Stephen Moloney - writer and activist
• Davina Devine - drag artist
• Alison Spittle - comedian
• Chidi Muojeke - mother and asylum seeker who has lived in Ireland for the past 11 years
• Jad Kesrin - Syrian refugee and student

He worked with photographer and artist Gavin Leane to create a unique portrait of each contributor. Each photographic portrait includes a pedestal / plinth from the National Collection and considers the impact of connecting one of the individuals from the panel with this loaded symbolic object. Gold as a universal symbol of power is used to highlight key aspects of each individuals’ relationship with power and agency. All portraits were taken on site at the National Gallery of Ireland. In relation to this project Caslin noted; “The work wishes to highlight how gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability and socio-economic status continue to be seen as legitimate reasons to take or withhold agency . . . ultimately we must find a way to create our own power”.

From the seven photographic portraits directed by Caslin and shot by Gavin Leane, Stephen Moloney’s portrait was selected to be the subject of the artist’s highly detailed pen and ink drawing. This drawing formed the basis for Caslin’s large-scale temporary installation Finding Power, erected in the Gallery’s Courtyard in 2018. This acquisition comprises all seven photographic portraits, the highly finished drawing of Stephen Moloney, along with the artist’s sketchbook. The body of work created for this project reveals the progress of Caslin’s idea from inception to completion. This acquisition of this body of work, which contextualises the entire project, provides a record of its existence for posterity.

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