Will St. Leger – Interview Totally Dublin (2016)
You’re active in so many sectors of the creative arena – how did you carve your way into each area?
Music has always been a part of my life. I played bass when I was in school and now I have my own band Faune. But I really just taught myself the production side of music creation, I’m quite nerdy in that way. I studied design in college and started off doing design work in London. London was a really exciting place at the time as the Britpop scene was exploding and the Britart scene was huge too. I remember going to lots of shows and exhibitions and these shows completely opened my mind. They really changed the way I thought about things. I then went travelling around India and Thailand on a kind of discovery path and when I came back I started working for GreenPeace. GreenPeace was always at the forefront in terms of using the most modern type of mediums to get their message across, so when stencils became the big thing that’s when I started using stencils, and that’s when I started getting into street art. I found that doing the street art was like an extension of my work as a designer.
A designer essentially is a problem solver; you take the ideas and condense them down into logos, etc. And street art is the same thing, it’s taking complexity — life’s complexity, social complexities, cultural constructs — and trying to sieve away all the crap and get down to the finer details of what life is about. That’s what I like to do anyway.
How do you find being a creative in Dublin? Is it a supportive community or are you left to fend for yourself?
I find it supportive but I’ve always been self-reliant. I’ve never gotten any money from the Arts Council, or any kind of grants. I fund all my own projects. I have more friends in the creative arts community than I do in any other areas, and they ask me for things and I ask them for things, and that’s how it works. Like, they’d ask me to do some design work or something, and then they might have a space I could use for a show. I think the reason for this is that creative people understand their limitations in terms of resources and also Irish people tend to reach out a little more, we help each other out.
Have you done much commercial work?
Yes, when I worked as a designer in the ’90s. I actually did a bit of design work for Becks, working on their labels. It was all by chance really, a Becks representative just so happened to stop by our office in Covent Garden and saw my work on the walls and the next thing I knew it was my job to get the artist’s idea onto the bottle label.
You’ve been involved with everyone from Project Arts Centre, to GOAL, to Beck’s, and worked in theatre, street art, music. There’s almost no area that you haven’t worked in…
Yeah, well I don’t want to hold myself back. I mean, there are things I’m afraid to do but I always challenge myself over why that is, why am I afraid to do that? Take radio, I always wanted to do radio, but there was this fear of being live on air. And rather letting that turn me off from it I thought “How can I do this?” Don’t get me wrong, I was terrified on my first show with Phantom FM! But there were lots of people there to hold my hand and pull me through it, and then suddenly there I was doing a show completely by myself. It was great.
And do you ever experience that same amount of fear with your street art?
Oh yeah, the exact same thing. Practically every artistic project that I do I start off with zero confidence. Even though I’ll have the idea, every single time I’ll just think to myself, “I can’t do this. I don’t know how I’m going to do this”. But I get over it. You just have to build your confidence up as you go so that by the time you finish the piece you can eventually take a step back, look at it and think, “Actually, I like that. Yeah, good job.” But then as soon as I begin the next one I think again, “I don’t think I can do this”.
What is the creative process involved in any of the work that you do?
I get a little consumed by it. I’ll learn everything I can about it all, get a feel for the topic, find out everything I need to know, and then I’ll let it sit for a few days. And it’s when I’m out buying vegetables, or walking down the street and generally not thinking about it that the press in my head starts to squeeze the idea out… And then suddenly the idea is there and I quickly write it down in my phone because even though you think you’ll remember it, it’s important to hold onto the source and catch it in the moment, before the critical mind swoops in and interrogates the concepts or dismisses it, leaving it to be forgotten about.
How would you describe your style of artwork?
I think the simpler you can say something, the better. I think that works in the public eye. And I like to keep my works accessible to everyone, so pieces without words are ideal. Truth is a very important part of art, as is obstructing people, in a nice way. I think if we’re not interrupted in our day-to-day life by things other than advertising, if we’re not interrupted socially or politically, then we just turn into mindless robots. We have to be challenged. I enjoy seeing people being interrupted in that sense and I like being the conjugate, the person who sets it all up.
And after you finish a street art piece, do you ever just stand nearby and watch the public’s engagement with it?
I always do. A few years ago I got a female mannequin torso and sprayed it pink and installed it on a plinth outside City Hall. The whole idea was to challenge the under-representation of women in memorials around Dublin and I wanted to see how long it’d stay there for. It lasted for about 40 minutes before a security guard came out and knocked its head off with a broom.