Last year a couple of members of the EDL Collective caught up with Irish street artist Maser, who was in town as an artist-in-residence at Tandem Press on the north side of Madison.

After starting out as a Dublin graffiti artist, Maser is now internationally known for his public murals, which combine positive messages with bold, beautifully executed painting. He has collaborated with a number of writers to create his signature style, including the young Chicago poet-activist Malcolm London.

The interview below is an abridged version of a longer interview, in which Maser talks to us about doing place-based art with at-risk kids, the burgeoning street art movement, and doing what you love.

EDL: Seems like the kids know you. So what’s the story with that?

Maser: They relate more to what I do, know what I mean? Painting on the streets in public, it’s there for everyone to see. Kids now are a lot more educated, simply because that’s in their hand (points to phone). They’re more street savvy, harder to dupe in a way. They’re a lot more clever. I’ve got good relationships through painting and doing big walls. I seem to have a following through that, primarily.

EDL: Are they more likely to talk to you than adults are?

Maser: Yeah, but a lot of it lives on line and you get feedback through that. The importance of that has really changed global art and street art. People are debating how important online is. I always refer to Banksy. Everyone knows his work, but who’s actually seen a Banksy piece? I’ve only seen one or two, and I live an hour’s flight away.

EDL: So what have you done with at-risk youth?

Maser: I’ve been working with groups in Dublin on after-school activities. Just before here I was working in Arkansas and that’s for at-risk youths. Teaching through mentorship, really. I come in as an example, saying follow your dream, you can do this, you know? They want to paint walls, they see I’m here and I’m doing it. Back at home, I started doing some workshops, working with students on creative projects and it just grew from there and word spread. I started working with youths, I started working with homeless.

EDL: So you would do an actual project with them? The Arkansas one was a wall, right?

Maser: Yeah, it’s a big wall, a hundred plus foot wall. It’s mentoring, having conversations, learning their story, telling them mine, seeing the links. And then painting, sharing that experience. Once they do that, they have ownership of the wall as well, and then they spread the message.

EDL: Your work really resonated with us. What we’ve been doing is showing up somewhere and kind of sparking a moment of creativity, particularly with kids. We showed up to an event last week with a half a dozen boxes and some big tubes. Then we sat down and waited. And the kids show up, and they build and they make robots or houses. And then we take it all away again, so it doesn’t leave a mark really, but it leaves a moment.

Maser: An impression.

EDL: An impression, yeah. A lot of your stuff doesn’t last, right? It gets painted over.

Maser: When you put something on public ground, that’s one of the risks with it. You can’t be too precious. Sometimes, it stays up for years, sometimes you might only get two months.

EDL: How long have you been working with kids?

Maser: With kids, probably ten years. I did a lot of workshops in an area I grew up with a lot of Irish kids, an underprivileged area.

EDL: Do you ever have any of them contact you ten years down the road?

Maser: I still have relationships with a few of them. One or two guys came to intern with me and continued on to some bigger projects and then went on themselves and became artists.

EDL: What else do you do? I saw that you had a music video you directed.

Maser: That was for Dublin musician Damien Dempsey. I first did a project with him in 2009 called They Are Us—taking his lyrics and transcribing them onto the walls. Positive messaging that was socially conscious about things that were going on, and painting them in the vein of old sign writing so that different people could appreciate it rather than just the young generation.

EDL: The 1930’s typography.

Maser: Yeah. That resulted in an exhibition where I had all this content to do a show and I got to meet a lot of homeless, so Damien said write one for the homeless, and I went and met the community there and asked what was needed, and they said a medical van. I asked how much does that cost? And they said thirty thousand euros, and I said that’s our goal: raise thirty thousand. And we did it. In two nights, the show was opened and sold out.

That was a crazy journey, because as I was trying to learn about and educate people, I ended up learning myself. I understood the cycle of homelessness and how it happens. It’s usually not drug abuse or drink–that’s usually the result of being homeless. It’s usually that something traumatic happens in the family, or abuse as a kid.

So then I went to a prison and worked there for a month with the inmates and did murals in the prison. It took a year to do it. Full on a year, but it was well worth it. So anyway, that was my relationship with Damo. And his management asked would I direct a music video? I was a big fan, and they sent me the song, and I was like no problem, this is easy.

EDL: Had you already made videos at this point?

Maser: I think that people of my generation, creatives, we don’t really follow one discipline. Although I consider myself a painter, a creative mind’s a creative mind, and I can visualize something moving as well. So I’d done one or two sort of fun videos already. Damo’s music video was a completely different style. A spiritual journey, the kids. It was a simple narrative. Trying to show Dublin streets. The mountain top is in the suburbs. It’s a place that we actually go. We’ve been there and we’ve done that, stood up there with our hands up, so it was easy to make the video.

EDL: So what’s next for you after this?

Maser: I’m going to Chicago to meet with a guy called Malcolm London, an incredible young guy, a spoken word poet from the west side. He’s going to give me some words and I’m going to transcribe them on the wall and then have a videographer document the experience.

EDL: Your early stuff was kind of guerrilla art, right?

Maser: Yeah, it was straight up graffiti. That’s what I did: paint trains, tracksides, tag. I’m not post-graffiti. I just prefer to focus on my energy on these new projects now. I think a lot of people in the same field as me went that way. A lot of people are adamant on the hard-core, illegal stuff and that’s what they do, but I don’t get a kick out of that anymore.

EDL: The kids we work with are often wanting to do something spontaneous, impulsive and slightly illegal. These kids you work with, they see your work, and they say let’s do that. What would you tell them?

Maser: I understand what it’s like to be fourteen or fifteen, a kid just full of energy. People give out about graffiti, but with graffiti comes huge discipline. It’s almost militant. I saved my lunch money, I stayed home while everyone went out and got drunk. I went painting at night and I met new friends, who were the same creative minds as me. It’s a free art form. I don’t want to tell kids go do something illegal, but at the same time, if it makes sense to you, then do that. Do what’s morally right to you. There are rules amongst the graffiti sub-culture.

EDL: There’s been a kind renaissance of street art, and a community that’s had a positive impact. What do you think that impact has been on Dublin of all the work that you guys have been doing?

Maser: I think it’s good. I”ve been in the scene for about 16 years. What I do now is contemporary murals. I think it’s all good and it’s opened up the doors for any creative to think, I could do that. Graffiti and street art is a huge, huge art movement. I don’t think people really realize how big it is. It’s bigger than the Renaissance, if you actually think about how many people are doing it, in how short of a time and how much it’s multiplying. It cuts across so many different disciplines. Some of the biggest artists in are contemporary art museums, all coming from graffiti backgrounds.

EDL: I think we were getting an inkling of that when we saw your video with the shop that was filled with paint.

Maser: The paint that we get now is solely for graffiti writers. It’s not car paint any more. It’s the one discipline where you go and you meet someone from a completely different background, upper class, lower class, and no one gives a shit. It’s just, what do you write and how good are you? And that’s all that matters and that resonates more, like with football. I hang out with seriously different classes, going from dinner with Bono to working in a prison. Meeting someone who lives on the street, homeless people. It’s great, it really opens you up to everyone and broadens your perspective.

EDL: Maybe that’s the story we tell the kids—that it’s being a part of something that’s serious, something that’s meaningful, and something that transcends a lot of boundaries that they’re experiencing in their day-to-day lives. We could do an exhibition, if we could find a legit space.

Maser: Yeah, that would be very good. You could do anything. I’ve learnt this. You can actually do anything you want. It’s really mad. If you just go, yeah I want to do that! Last year I said, I want to do more stuff in the States, and now I’m moving to the States in January.

EDL: That’s great. That should be our motto too. If you want to do something you can do it. You can do anything you want.

Maser: Just effing do it (laughs). Just do it with them and share that time with them.

EDL: Write that down! That’s wall-worthy. So we’ll do it, with the kids.

You can get inspiration for your own murals and check out Maser’s most recent work through his website or by following him on Facebook.