Joe Caslin is an illustrator and street artist based in Tullamore. While working as a teacher and an artist, Joe produced some of the country’s most recognisable street art, most notably the ‘Claddagh Embrace’ which was installed during the marriage equality referendum in 2015.

‘Claddagh Embrace’, Joe Caslin, 2015. Photo credit:

Where did you spend lockdown?

Lockdown for me was a strange one. The week the schools were closed I was in hospital getting quite substantial heart surgery. A group of students from my school in Tullamore had just come back from Northern Italy so I couldn’t safely be in Tullamore and my mum was isolating at home in Roscommon so I couldn’t go there. So the first two weeks of lockdown I spent in Antrim and then moved down to Tullamore after the 14 days and I’ve been here since.

Did you have access to a studio during this time? If not, how did you continue to create work?

Yeah in my studio is actually in my house so that was perfect.

Can you talk through your art making process?

My making process – This changes from project to project let me give you an example of the most recent project that I did. It was a project on mental health but more specifically therapy. The Irish Association of Counsellors and psychotherapists approached me with an issue. Young men between the ages of 25 and 34 are only engaging in therapy in low numbers. Unfortunately there is still a sense of shame and stigma associated with speaking to a professional in a therapeutic space.

Did you experiment with any new materials or methodologies during lockdown?

Over the last year I’ve been drawing a lot more on the iPad. I found the transition from pencil and paper maybe more of a psychological issue really than anything else. Moving to a digital format felt not real in a way. What I mean by that – there is no real tangible physical thing from a drawing that I made on the iPad other than a collection of ones and zeros as a digital file. It’s not until you press print that you actually have something. When I draw completely on the iPad the results can be really impressive but there is also a an electronic shadow or DNA that sits within the drawing. If I draw with pencil and paper, that works out really well but there is a limit in the mark making that can be achieved. So, I found maybe a 50-50% combination works best. I begin the drawing as a physical thing, a paper and pencil drawing that I get that scanned and then move to a digital drawing application. The marks I can’t achieve physically with pencil and paper, I’m able to achieve on the iPad. So I’ve achieved the best case scenario at the minute it’s this perfect collaboration or symbiosis between the actual thing and an electronic thing. So yeah, that’s the biggest shift that has happened in my practice. It was nice to develop that in the quiet weeks. I had the time to explore that process and make it my own.

Given the limitations and restrictions of the last few months, did your art making process change at all?  If so, do you think this will continue to change how you will make art going forward?

The biggest change of all in the last few months has been in the absence of the rat race. It was something I co-authored and stepped into every single day.

Like everyone, I left that mania and I’m grateful to have done so. I have no intention of re-entering that space or driving through life at the speed I was going. It was ridiculous. I lost so much joy and opportunity. Lockdown has given me that clarity and I’m thankful. 

Did you have any projects during this time that went ahead?

I have I never really stopped with projects. Making artwork is part of my everyday. It’s something that is kind of intrinsic to who I am. I didn’t ever stop thinking about art or making art during the pandemic. Two major projects have been released in the last month – a project on resilience in young people based on the quote “we are not all in the same boat but we are all in the same storm’, and as I mentioned previously a project on therapy. These projects were born in a period of disease, fear and restriction and aimed to highlight the psychological consequence this time has on people.

Do you have any upcoming projects?
I’m working on a project about touch at the moment. It’s strange because the project began late last year and the theme was generated before the pandemic hit, so it’s quite ironic that I’m dealing with the theme of touch in a time when our physical contact is restricted by advice and law.

All photographs were provided by Joe Caslin unless stated otherwise. Thumbnail photo credit: Gavin Leane. To see more of Joe’s work visit his website and Instagram.