Asbestos Exposure

Sorry of the lack of posts this week. I’m at a conference in St. Louis (which means that YES, I’m missing the Adam Neate treasure hunt). To make up for the lack of posts, I’ve got two really special posts this week. This is the first of two profiles based on artrepublic’s Saints and Sinners exhibition at the St. Martin’s Lane Hotel. Check back tomorrow for the next one (with Pure Evil).

Asbestos is one of Dublin’s premier street artists, and his portraiture and “Lost” series wheatpastes can be seen all over the world. He’s also been displayed in galleries across the world. Most recently, he was involved in a show at the Carmichael Gallery in LA, and the Saints and Sinners show in London.

Chess Thinking at the Old Truman Brewery. Photo from Asbestos
Chess Thinking at the Old Truman Brewery. Photo from Asbestos

The piece above, Chess Thinking, was the first piece I’d ever seen by Asbestos. I didn’t know anything about street art at that point, but I spent time around the Old Truman Brewery, and I always made a point of checking to see if it was still there (I believe it still is). I just thought it was so cool that somebody would take the time to paint something so detailed and unlike “typical” graffiti or street art, and then put it on the street. As I discovered street art, I’d realized that the invoation in Asbestos’ work is more about the detail and skill than just the act of leaving it on the street, but Chess Thinking is still one of my favorite pieces in London.

So that’s why I like Asbestos. But until meeting him on Monday, I didn’t know much at all about him.

Masking Tape by Asbestos. Photo from Asbestos
Masking Tape by Asbestos. Photo from Asbestos

He’s only got one piece in the Saints and Sinners show where we met, but it’s a special one. Asbestos’ portraits usually depict his friends, because he feels that is who he can find a personal connection with. When he tries to paint people that he doesn’t know well enough, he says that it can lead to a painting that feels detached, and he thinks people can see that when they look at his paintings.

“Masking Tape” is a bit of a deptarture then. It’s his first self portrait. Based on a photo that he took about two years ago, it’s painted on a piece of metal that he found in the skip behind his local pizza joint. So far, that’s typical, besides being his first self portrait, it is also one of the most detailed portraits I’ve seen of his. Of course, because this is a self portrait of an anonymous street artist, he’s almost completely covered in tape except for his eyes. Most of his paintings take between a few days and a few weeks to complete, and Masking Tape was on the longer side.

Asbestos’ process for painting a portrait is a complicated one. Underneath the final layer of paint are layers of paint and parts of the original photograph that the work is based off of. The overall process is a complicated one, but in the end, none of the original photograph remains. It’s this process that leads to some of the portraits looking very photorealistic, while others are much less so.

Asbestos also does paintings of hands. He’s done the hands of Irvine Welsh, Ben Eine, and D*Face, among others. He seems to think of hands the way some people think of eyes. They can be a window into the person that isn’t otherwise as noticeable.

Eine's Hands by Asbestos. Photo from Asbestos

“Sometimes it’s amazing: people’s hands don’t look at all like who they are.” said Asbestos. “And other times, I painted D*Face’s hands, and even though the painting’s kind of, it looks quite tough, quite, I wouldn’t say aggressive, but quite intense, but when you look closer at it, he’s not gripping his hands, they’re just closed. There’s an intimacy to that.”

D*Face's Hands by Asbestos. Photo from Asbestos
D*Face's hands by Asbestos. Photo from Asbestos

Soon, hopefully by Christmas, Asbestos hopes to release his first screenprint, which will his painting of Eine’s hands. Nothing is set in stone yet, but he is planning on 13-14 colors, an edition of not much more than 100, and he’s trying to keep the price below £200.

The Lost series is a series of wheatpastes and stickers that Asbestos has been working on since about 2002. As great as Asbestos’ paintings are, the Lost pieces are what really make me smile when I see them. The picture below is a great example of Asbestos’ dark sense of humor that comes out in the pieces that he wheatpastes in cities. One of my favorites goes something along the lines of “LOST: Her number. I felt like the man last night, but then I woke up this morning and I can’t find her number anywhere. If you find it, email me.”

Lost Snake by Asbestos. Photo from Asbestos
Lost Snake by Asbestos. Photo from Asbestos

He’s even made the messages in different languages so that they can be understood wherever he pastes them.

Since the posters list his email at the bottom of each one, he gets responses from the people that find his work. Almost every day, somebody emails him with reactions to the work.

Some people are less than receptive. One man even took the time to let him know that “however humorous this may be, it’s still litter.”

On the other hand, just last week, Asbestos got an email from a woman who wanted to let him know that “[the poster] really makes me smile on my way to work.”

“To do that to somebody,” Asbestos said, “I feel it’s a very rare thing to distantly make react like that.”

So that’s Asbestos in a nutshell.