Stephen Walsh is a designer, illustrator and recent graduate of NCAD. Here, masc speaks with Stephen about his degree show in which he took advocates of the LGBT rights movement – with a special focus on the AIDS crisis – as its subject matter.
Images of fighting figures from home and abroad, like Marsha P. Johnson, Bobbi Campbell, Peter Stayley and Tonie Walsh, are rendered in Stephen's vibrant styling. A treatment beautifully at odds with the struggle and oppression which marked the journey towards liberation.
What was your degree show about? Brilliant People was a look at [those] who shaped the movement and fought for healthcare and gay rights throughout this time.
What drew you to it? A longing to learn about my own community's history. I lived in New York for a few months in 2016 and made friends over there who very much in tune with the hardships that faced the community. They would tell me stories that, as a gay man, I felt ashamed that I didn't know or hadn't given much thought. People talk about the AIDS crisis or growing up in the 1980s, I wanted some understanding as to what life was like then. It was Larry Kramers Play 'The Normal Heart' that gave me an insight into the epidemic. It infuriated me and made me cry but also light a spark in me to better myself as a gay man and teach myself about LGBTQ+ history. I wanted to be a person that was able to speak confidently to people about the AIDS crisis and LGBTQ history, to share the things I learned when creating my body of work.
What did you learn? One thing that I took away from the project while researching was seeing how history can repeat itself, as evident in Irish politics now as it was in the 1980s. Another thing that infuriated me was how deeply the Church and the State were intertwined, and still are today.
What does your degree show seek to communicate? It is about one of the most devastating times for our community, but it's also a celebration of what we have achieved through our struggles. I knew from the get go that I didn't want it to be sombre or depressing, I wanted to show the variety of people in our community and to showcase them in full unapologetic colour. I also hope that it communicates the joy I have felt in the LGBTQ+ community, especially in the last five years, and the undying love and support we have for each other.
Do you think younger people engage with this time [in history] enough? No, not at all. This was part of my own frustrations that led me to start this project in the first place. I feel like the younger generation of LGBTQ+ people dont give the older generation the respect they deserve, partly because they don't know the history. Yes, they have Drag Race and Gaga and they either know the basic gist of it all or they think they know it all, but that couldn't be further from the truth. To truly understand, you have to go out of your way to teach yourself about what it was actually like back then, and what it has given us today. That's why I wanted to create this colorful collection, to attract these individuals and get them excited and engaged in learning about LGBTQ+ history.
You confront a very bleak, frightening and angry time in your particular manner. Was that conscious? I knew the outcome was definitely going to be colourful. For the main reason that I was going to be working on the project for the majority of my final year. Coming in everyday and reading about these amazing people [most of whom] lost their lives to AIDS was hard. It really took a toll on me, on top of the stresses of final hand-ins. But one thing that made it worth it was being able to celebrate their lives through creating artwork that would encapsulate their stories forever and hopefully light a spark in someone else to want to know more about these brilliant people.
Keep an eye on masc's Instagram later this week for a couple of previously unpublished pieces by Stephen of an altogether different sort.