Creating a brighter Galway with Finbar McHugh

Finbar McHugh is a familiar face around Galway. He uses spray paint to create colourful, emotive works of art on huge scales — like the enormous techni-coloured wave mural on Shop Street — to pieces small enough to hang on your wall.

We got the chance to chat with him about his work, his interactive creative workshops, and his vision for Galway.

Were you always a doodler? How important was art to you growing up?

Definitely a doodler. I was always just drawn to creating and doodling, looking at things creatively – but I also liked teaching.Teaching was always there as well.

You started out in the graffiti scene — was that important to your development to an artist?
Hugely. I didn’t really know what graffiti was when I started. There were a few guys around doing it, but I hadn’t really connected with any of them. I was just drawing on tables and stuff, and started to expand from there. Graffiti was like having a family that you could learn with. It’s funny because you’ve got the good and the bad. They’ll kick the crap out of you but they won’t let anyone else touch you. It’s a real bubble – you can go anywhere in the world with it. That really helped me develop and open up.

Do you miss those forays in the middle of the night, the illicit adventures?
Yeah… One of the main ways of learning is facing fear and I think graffiti brought that out in me, made me face some fears. I was never really a badass or anything but I did my fair share of testing the limits. It’s always good to know that there are no rules really. [The graf scene] is really nerdy, really. I still love seeing it. Whatever way you want to express yourself is brilliant.


Did you find the transition from street art to the studio and canvas difficult?
It was really hard. [Laughs]. It took so long to be able to come and work inside — and then create small, too. I was so used to creating huge pieces, that to work on something the size of an A4 page… It felt really difficult to fit it all in, it felt limiting. I had to break through all the things I’d learned, to go backwards and learn how to create again.

Was Galway always where you felt you needed to be?
I’ve always loved Galway. I went travelling, I lived in a campervan, and I was living over in Berlin for a while. It was great to see how other societies functioned but then to be able to come back with that perspective and share a bit of that has been great.

Tell us more about your campervan experience.
It was just three friends, we went busking around Europe. I used to draw people’s names in graffiti on the street. Being in somewhere like Berlin, graffiti is at the top level.

With something like that, it’s all about process. I was creating on the street, so people would stop and observe, and they’d want to connect. The way I look at all artists, is you’re creating a moment. You’re allowing yourself to create. So someone would ask me to create their name in graffiti, and then I create that, make that moment and they have something from it to hold onto.


Would you like to see something like the Waterford Walls project in Galway?
Galway has quite a strong identity already – depending on who you talk to, it could be different – sports, art. I think all creativity is good, but there’s also an awareness of where you’re putting the artwork. But overall I think if you’re creating space for people to express themselves, that’s amazing and there are lots of areas that could use a bit of love.

Your art always feels really uplifting — is positivity a big part of what you do?
It’s positivity with a healthy respect for the fact that everyone goes through their ups and downs in life. For me, it’s about understanding, openness — I look at art as a way for people to reflect. You’re putting something there that gives people space to look at themselves, and feel whatever they feel when they look at it. You’re just creating that space for them. Whatever it does, it evokes emotion.

How’s the creative retreat from social media going?
Social media is amazing… but it’s all about balance. Sometimes I just want to create. It can be distracting. Like here, I’m working on a project for October and I could share that now online, but the real value of it will be in October. Eventually, it just comes down to enjoying your own process. For me, I’m happy making art even if no one ever sees it. It’s just doing it that makes me happy.

Is there a favourite project you’ve worked on?
They’ve all been huge learning experiences. In terms of a project that was just mad, it was the hospital. To work in such a public space, where there’s such a need for understanding and compassion, and to be given that opportunity – it was a miracle that that happened. It’s understanding we all need, for ourselves and for others. That comes through the work, and the hospital was a huge step in being of service, in doing something to help other people.


You’re still very young. What are you looking forward to doing in the future?
I’ve been doing more talks recently, and I’ve learned a lot about emotional intelligence and understanding and mindfulness in a practical sense. Being able to hold space for people to open up — that comes through creative workshops and teaching, just to help people help themselves. I’m pretty keen on brightening up the whole city of Galway, but with community involvement. I have plans for that.

[At the time of this interview], you have an interactive workshop upcoming with the ConTempo String Quarter. What are those like for you, as the artist?
These events are lovely because it’s all about process. I meet so many people that are like, ‘I love what you do, but I’m not a creative’. To me, the fact that they even have to say that means that there’s a want in them to express something. So it’s cool to have an opportunity to work with people and hold space for people, for anyone, even if they think they’ve no bit of creative blood in them, to create something. And there’s no right or wrong — it’s all about having a bit of fun. These events are amazing to see people getting in touch with that playfulness that we all have inside. The more of that, the better. All you have to do is allow people to try, without the fear of doing it wrong – because there is no wrong.
I go around and watch people, and if someone is finding it a little bit hard, I go to them and say, you know, “It’s okay, go on.” It’s amazing to see how delighted people are afterward.



All photos courtesy of Finbar 247’s Facebook