Can we effect change in the world – with blobs of paint?

ghlaoigh-me-arisscreen print by Eoin Mac Lochlainn

Where do you go these days, to see an art exhibition? In this economic climate, what’s the role for art? There’s less and less art galleries in the city. Arts Centres have reduced by half, the number of exhibitions they hold in a year. Studios? Museums? Railway stations? –  funnily enough, I was in an art exhibition in a railway station once, and it was a great success. (the images above are some of my works from that show)

It was an exhibition by the artists’ collective called: Tondo. Tondo was established in 2007 and ever since then, we’ve been meeting up regularly to discuss our work and to explore current issues in contemporary art. But I like to think that we were a bit like “The Society for Travelling Art Exhibitions”.

That was the official name of an artists’ collective in Russia in the 1870s. The Peredvizhniki or “Wanderers”, as they were called, came together in protest at the academic restrictions of the St Petersburg Academy of Arts. Rather than continue to paint in the Classical or Romantic style, the Wanderers set out to depict life as it really was in Russia at the time. Their subjects would include the struggles of the common people, paintings of the countryside and everyday life in Russia. And they brought their art exhibitions out to remote parts of the country – bringing art to the people.

Nowadays, these ideas mightn’t seem very radical but at that time, freedom of expression was severely curtailed in Russia (maybe it still is, come to think of it, and maybe freedom of expression is not all that popular here in Ireland either, for that matter).  Anyway, the Wanderers believed that they had a special responsibility to effect change in the country. I thought that was interesting.

These guys were fired up, filled with enthusiasm and hope. I couldn’t help thinking that artists today are maybe missing something…  Does anyone think that we have a ‘responsibility to effect change’ in the world? Well I do, or at least to make art that deals with real emotions, real situations, real life. Surely there’s more to blobs of paint than… blobs of paint?

See more about that exhibition in the railway station at:

Tondo @ Drogheda Train Station



  1. I came across this piece in 1999 . For what its worth i submit it in the context of your blog on artists engaging etc.
    “ the middle decades of this century lack of overt political engagement seemed an unforgivable sin in an artist. Now that the cultural world generally has retreated from idealogy the preoccupation with the “merely” personal appears less culpable “.


    • Thanks for your comment, Anthony. yes indeed, the cultural world has retreated from ideology, terms like ‘capitalism’ or ‘socialism’ being so contentious these days but for me, I like to call a spade a spade, so to speak 🙂 so I continue to allow my political views to effect my artwork.


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