The Diabhal is in the Details
LSAD graduate Emmett Walsh, going by the name of Diabhal (Gaeilge for Devil), explains what drives his creativity, where he finds inspiration in ancient Celtic Ireland, and the contrast between folklore and pop culture in his work.
As an Irish gay man, I want to investigate my sexuality and the role it played in the rural area where I grew up. What really interests me is the hyper masculinity of these areas. I aim to explore Irish history and folklore, and the strong role of masculinity within these stories, and juxtapose the role of men in Gaelic Ireland with the lad culture of modern times. It was said by the Greek philosopher Aristotle that the Celts in ancient Ireland “openly approved of male lovers”.
I want to create a world of my own through my art. I take a lot of influence from modern pop culture and hip-hop culture and juxtapose this with Irish culture, combining elements from ancient Ireland and modern-day Ireland. I find inspiration in found artifacts from museums or other evidence from our historical past. I grew up not appreciating my surroundings, seeing Ireland as a boring place to live, but the older I got the more I grew to appreciate our culture, from music to history.
The countryside of Ireland I was raised in was not as open as it is today. I grew up through the changes we are now used to and, I feel this shaped the way I look at things in my own life. My art has helped me become more comfortable with myself and understand myself a lot more now than I did when I was young. I have always had a passion for art and fashion, and since I was young I could not see myself working in any other line of work. This has pushed me to keep creating.
“I want to create a world of my own through my art”
I studied photography, film and video at Limerick School of Art and Design, where my course gave me this freedom to experiment with many different types of media, including drawing and sculpture. My interests are broad, and I try to combine as much as I can when I am creating and explore different forms of art. For my graduate show, when I felt my ideas finally came together, I created a take on an ancient Irish burial site, but I put my own twist on it. I constructed a marquee that you’d see at your 21st birthday, full of cans, drawings, a video on an old television, a modern take on a burial stone and a shopping trolley containing a bog body.
I take a lot of influence from the Celts and Picts of Scotland, they would have had a lot of influence in their own culture. One thing I love from the Scottish was the war paint/tattoos. I use this ancient tattooing a lot in my drawings, mixing it with the culture of tattoos we see today in popular media. I feel Scotland and Ireland share a close bond, from culture and folklore, which gives me a greater field of history to pick and choose from. I try to imagine what Ireland would have been like if it had its own monarchy throughout history, how this would have looked in the Ireland we are in today, with our culture and art growing through the generations.
Religion plays a big part in my work too. I want to show a more pagan Ireland compared to the Catholic Ireland I grew up in. The church had a huge impact on our culture and made many changes, even rewriting our history to make it easier to convert the Irish to Catholicism. I investigate this by looking at ancient sites and old traditions that still live on today, such as the wren boys and the St. Bridget’s cross. They were pre-Christian traditions adopted and changed by the church. The St. Bridget’s cross is said to protect your house from fire. I don’t want to see these old traditions fade away, so I’d like if Ireland became more pagan. I create my art to try and keep these ideas alive as much as I can. By mixing them with the culture of today, they lose the stereotype of being “old fashioned”, which I myself would have thought growing up.
Recently, I’ve been working with a duo called Kneecap from the north of Ireland who rap in Irish. I was delighted the boys got in contact with me, I’d been a big fan and could not have asked for a better pair to collaborate with. Their music complements my work so well, they bring two completely different worlds together, from the Irish language into the world of hip-hop. Working with them is brilliant. I feel I have no boundaries in the work I create for them since we both bring such similar ideas to the table. Creating has opened a lot of other doors to people around Ireland and abroad that I would not have known about before. Instagram is a great platform to share my work and I would class it as my online portfolio, it helps me find artists that have common interests with myself.
Through my art, I want to create a world that evokes past and present Ireland, giving me a way to understand and express myself. Old folklore, and ancient history helps to create my work, while I contrast it with a modern pop culture view of the world, to show my own vision for what Ireland could be.