At the beginning of April, artist Adam Doyle, also known as Spicebag, made his television debut on Virgin Media’s The Tonight Show. Following the show, a video capturing a notable exchange between Doyle and Fionnán Sheahan, the editor of Irish Independent, quickly gained traction on Twitter, becoming viral. We had a sit-down with Adam to chat about his artwork and what led to his appearance on The Tonight Show. We got insight on the person behind the art and spoke about some of his other ongoing and new projects.
Let’s start with the topic of the moment, which is your eviction artwork. Am I right in saying it wasn’t actually created this year? It’s obviously had a resurgence in attention over the last couple of weeks, but if you could take us back to when it was first created and the inspiration behind it?
I think it was 2020 when I made it. It’s all sort of a blur now. I put it up as part of a series evaluating things that were going on in Irish society at the time and drawing a parallel with things happening here hundreds of years ago.
I ran it again when the eviction of That Social Centre, in Stoneybatter, happened, that was when, I can’t remember which developer it was now, but essentially he, his close mates and family showed up and started laying into people then the Gardaí showed up in force. It was very violent, they went in and they smashed the whole place, pulled all the things off the walls. They had the place done up nice and were operating it as a social centre. It used to be vacant property and they were using it for something positive and, rather than working this out in a reasonable way, they just destroyed it.
A bunch of people showed up and resisted and then the Gardaí got involved – they were driving a van into people at one stage. It was very unsafe. It annoyed me so I thought, fuck it; I’ll run the prints again to [fundraise to] repair the place. Given the amount of money that went into it originally, the money I raised was only a fraction of what they needed.
I issued [the print] again recently with the end of the eviction ban. There is going to be a tsunami of evictions and mass injection of people into an already obscenely crowded property and rental market. I raised just under a grand or something, then Eoin Ó Broin who is Sinn Féin’s housing spokesman, shared it on his Twitter. That caused World War Three because Simon Harris and the Minister For Justice who both follow Eoin started to lose the head.
Then Antoinette Cunningham of the AGSI took huge offence to it. It got turned into a political football with Sinn Féin on one side trying to use it to draw attention to the fact that they were voting against the eviction ban ending and then the coalition parties using it as a way to, I guess, show some love to the Gardaí while also having a dig at Sinn Féin.
I don’t have Twitter, thank god, so I wasn’t involved. It was mad, I didn’t really expect that to happen at all. I just woke up and saw loads of missed calls on my phone and loads of messages on my Instagram; this lad from RTE, a lad from Red FM Cork. It was causing a conversation, which is good.
I feel the wind went out of the whole Gardaí hate thing pretty quickly. I think even Antoinette Cunningham started to walk that back. They were trying to frame it that I was trying to have a go at the guards, which I am but it’s not exclusively, and it’s not like I am completely out of pocket trying to do that.
Then I was brought onto the Virgin Tonight Show and then it properly hit the fan because the Irish Independent editor came prepared. He had done a sneaky thing, he had written an article and then when I was in the green room, they published it so I had no way of responding to it.
He actually made it go even bigger and he was obviously looking at it in a very ‘got ya’ way. The way he responded to me probably would’ve worked if I was like a Sinn Fein TD but I’m not, I don’t really care what he was upset about. It kind of felt like I was in school, he was shouting at me, talking over me, so I just kind of let him talk. I think he came off pretty badly.
Even the coalition TD beside him was just looking at the wall, they weren’t getting involved. It came off as like, very out of touch. But that’s kind of what propelled it into the stratosphere.
I think it’s really interesting with the artwork – and Blindboy says the same thing on his podcast – that you’ve not really created anything new here. You’ve remixed a few different existing visuals; you haven’t pulled the Gardaí out of context in this piece and put them in a different context to the original images. You’ve also gone from being somewhat anonymous to going on the TV and having your name and your face very much out there. How’s that been and how was making that decision?
There was a brief – maybe 15 minutes – deliberation as to whether I should wear something on my head. I was thinking maybe a cardboard box on my head with like: RENT €2,000 [on it]. But then I was thinking, no, this is actually a serious enough point to, you know, be grown up about it and just not go for any gimmicks or anything like that.
I think that did me a favour because I think a lot of the clippable aspect of the interview was my facial expressions and stuff like that. That kind of deflated a little bit of the rage from the other side of the table. And again, like you’re saying, nothing in the image is ungenuine, all the images are from evictions. Even the chap on the ground, that’s a fellow that was thrown on the ground by bailiffs in Strokestown, in Roscommon.
Do you feel a sense of nervousness about the lack of anonymity moving forward now? Or are you cool with the decision to be more visible and you’re ready to kind of rock and roll with it moving forward?
Again, I’m not on Twitter! I feel like this would be a lot more stressful if I had Twitter because that’s where people voice their opinions; you get a few threats and that kind of thing. But they were few and far between and they were quite lame so I wasn’t too concerned about them. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. And I probably will continue my sort of brand beforehand with the masks and that. Unless, you know, there is another serious thing to talk about.
I was never fully anonymous [online] – my face was anonymous but I wasn’t totally anonymous. My name would have been on my articles, my journalism. [I write] mainly about the North, particularly loyalist paramilitaries, paramilitary violence, intimidation, that kind of stuff, and I have no problem putting my name to those articles. I am also looking to do some other more serious sort of social commentary type content with my name attached.
I was listening to a podcast during the week, and you spoke about when you first collaborated with the guys over at Kneecap, and how at that point you started to lean more into the political aspect of visual arts. Could you tell us a little bit about that and how the relationship with Kneecap came to be and how everything has gone since then?
I met them at a gig down in Clonmel while I was in college doing video game art. I dropped out of that, but I met them then and we hit it off. I offered to do some of the posters and merchandise for them and I did that with them for a while. Through that I got introduced to a lot of other Irish creatives. The political side of [art] is something I’ve always had an interest in.
Once I hit my stride with that, I was like, this is something I really enjoy doing. I really like creating little expressions of like, if you want to call it pop culture, and maybe like meme culture and stuff like that.
You also mentioned to me before that you feel most inspired when you’re in Ireland, rather than being abroad. Are there any Irish references in particular that you draw from? Is it just the surroundings and living here?
That’s a hard question. I feel more involved [in Ireland], I guess. And when I’m talking to people, they kind of generally understand what you’re talking about and it resonates more. I was working in London for a while for a clothing brand over there, just doing bits and bobs, but I felt quite detached. I like being here, the little things, like being able to go to the pub. You can obviously do that in London but there is kind of a magic or like an enhancement in Ireland. Anywhere in Ireland does it for me. I’m very particular about that. But I’m very invested in Irish culture and politics and what have you.
Could you speak to the process that you have in terms of cooking up ideas, sitting on them, you know, bringing them forward, and then eventually deciding to publish whatever you end up publishing?
I think I’ve said to you before that I have a lot of shit ideas as well. It takes a while to carve something that might be good. I come up with things at a mile a minute, and then it takes a while, sometimes you sit on it for a few weeks or a few months. I feel like everything kind of has a punchline. So it’s just coming up with a good one. Like, there is a punchline to The Eviction and I feel like it’s the same with the rest of the stuff I create as well.
I think your journalism is a somewhat lesser known aspect of you. You’ve been working with Popular Front for the last three or four years. Can you speak a bit about how you work with them?
Popular Front is a grassroots conflict journalism organisation based out of the UK founded by Jake Hanrahan. There’s only 6 people on the team. It’s got a huge following now, I think it’s nearly 450,000 people on Instagram. We don’t do articles; we don’t have the resources to do that.
The way we do it at the moment is a weekly podcast, which is about staying on top of stuff and speaking to journalists around the world. There are also daily social media updates, so we pull video content from across Twitter. Usually, these are from open source intelligence people that are constantly updating on things in their own country or around the world. We just give a broad overview of conflict on a daily basis.
Aside from that, we produce films as well. I think our most successful one is ‘Plastic Defense’, where we spoke to this fella called JStark, who essentially developed a fully reliable, make-it-in-your-gaff 3D printed assault rifle. It’s obviously very scary for like, you know, people in power or whatever.
That kind of film propelled us to a much larger audience, so we kind of cover fairly mad stuff. Now I don’t go anywhere near any of these places! I sit at my desk. But yeah – [Popular Front] is a brand, a lot of people love it, we have a big community on social media, a Discord, all this kind of stuff.
You’ve got some other things cooking at the moment that you have told me about during the week. As you move forward from this kind of explosion in recognition and everything else, what’s next for Spicebag?
We have a film coming up. We have been working on it since August and it’s about the death of Terrance Weelock in Garda custody in 2006 at Store Street Garda station. So if the guards didn’t like me this month, they are not going to like me next month either.
That project is under my own brand that I’m trying to launch called Council. There’s gonna be a magazine accompanying it and all that kind of stuff. We’re hoping to get that out by the end of this month/the start of May. It’s kind of like herding cats, but I think it’s all kind of nailed down.
That’s the kind of stuff I want to move into, more serious content, because I do appreciate that. A lot of my stuff is very tongue in cheek, but these projects, the magazine and film, are very much dealing with difficult subject matters as well.
Lead image artwork by @melville_the_third.