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The Diabhal in Disguise

“I take the folklore of Ireland and throw them into tracksuits where they are smoking fags and drinking cans, but they would be the Gods” – Diabhal

Ireland is known for its rich Celtic past, the stories that have slowly been hidden under politics and hatred, tabooed by society; there is a common misunderstanding that faeries are not real and that the Ireland we have now come to know did not come from the pagan folklore that had existed and cultured the island, moulding it into the present day country.

But what if I told you that maybe those stories could still be true, and that the old gods are living among us, wearing tracksuits, drinking Dutch Gold cans, smoking fags and gatting on the streets? What if they were – in a way – us, too?

Limerick based artist, Diabhal, with an increasing Instagram follower count of 3,500, brings back those ideas with the recreation and retelling of the Tuatha Dé Danann in the art that he creates.

Diabhal is an Irish visual artist who studied photography, film and video at Limerick School of Art and Design [LSAD]. He is a homegrown artist, whose art is focused on contemporary folklore mixed with modern culture.

Diabhal translates to “the devil” as Gaeilge. Earlier this month, I was grateful to have a chat with the artist to discuss his works and inspirations:

What initially got you into visual graphic art?

It’s like a weird one, because I did go to art college and I did do photography and I’ve literally always been drawing. I guess it was just learning Photoshop in college which made me realise, oh wait, I can actually draw on Photoshop. I was doing a few little things for my main project and then it kind of accidentally happened that my project ended up being all drawings.

How did LSAD help influence you to take the direction that you are going in right now?

In college, we loved dressing people up and dressing ourselves up for different projects and creating characters. In a way, that’s what I would have done with my drawings as well. We did like a folklore project in the start and I remember when it was done, I thought, “this is unreal”. So, it kind of stuck in my head and now I keep trying to push that side of stuff. Creating the characters and stuff like that has always intrigued me.

What would you point to as your influences for art?

A lot of music, I think. It wouldn’t necessarily be localised music. For myself, female rap is my main thing, I am so into it, and with the UK female rap right now, I feel like they are really honing their culture. I feel like growing up, I had been very Americanised – musically – at the start, but these artists do not hide behind glamour. They express “this is where I am from”. It is the themes that they put together in their music that influence me.

You stated in your interview with FAC Magazine that religion plays a big role in your work. Would you care to elaborate on that?

I think just being from the countryside is a big factor [in] that. Like, I would have served in mass and all that kind of stuff. The older I got, the more I agreed that religion had become such a bad thing and that there is so much to disagree with.

However, Ireland was built on religion and it has influenced a lot of things here, and what I am trying to create in my art is an Ireland without religion.

If we had kept the Pagan roots, what would Ireland look like now? It’s the forgotten stories of folklore that I am trying to bring back in. It’s like there is no good or evil with them, like the classification of heaven or hell. I feel like Christianity is evil, but with stuff like Tuatha Dé Danann, they openly show us that as people, we can be good one minute and then evil the next minute – it’s the combining of both together to show that there is an in-between.

How did your collaboration with Kneecap begin?

It was just literally over Instagram. They were really into my art, and I thought that they were sound out. My art and their music, in a way, blends very nicely. We get on like a house on fire and just bounce back quite nicely as well.

There’s also SpiceBag, another artist who collaborated alongside me for Kneecap. We did cover art for albums [and] t-shirts. I would also collaborate with my friend Orla and do the visual art for when they performed for Electric Picnic and when they went on tour as well.

Coming to your Patreon account, it’s something that you have started quite recently. Would you like to share what exactly you are asking your patrons to subscribe to?

I feel like I am quite new to it [Patreon] myself, and it was a new project that I started over the lockdown. I wanted to start making something new and bring the folklore into it as well. I do make my own pictures in art and stuff, but there is only so much that you can describe with pictures. Starting this Patreon account, where I am able to make comic strips and include the folklore that I was always interested in, I was able to do more research and make the visual art that I was creating come alive. Since Ireland was always very Christianised, I wanted to depict my art in these stories through the first settlers in Ireland. Right now, I am drawing my sixth comic about the Tuatha Dé Danann, which is about the coming of Lugh.

I would usually write out a few facts – now I would not be good at spelling and the sorts, but I would write them out – and get my cousin Seán to proofread them for me, and then put them up and sort of draw my own style with it.

I basically take all the marginalia and medieval art that was shown before and sort of throw it into the modern culture of Ireland, where lads would be wearing tracksuits, smoking fags, and drinking cans – but they are actually the Gods.

Coming back to something else that you mentioned in FAC Magazine: your sexuality – is this something that you find yourself still expressing in your art?

When I was in college, it was something I always looked towards. Hypermasculinity was a big thing back in the day. In modern Irish culture, hypermasculinity is still such a big thing, with men usually being like “Oh, I’m the big man”. This was something that I grew up around. It felt bizarre but I was also weirdly interested in it at the same time. I bring that in, once again, with the tracksuits and all; however, I do not think I bring in much about sexuality or hypermasculinity into my art anymore. I am more focused on the folklore part of it and to revive these stories back into the modern world.

Diabhal, alongside visual artist SpiceBag designed the poster for Kneecap’s gig which was to take place at the Cork Opera House in May, but was cancelled due to the first lockdown. Diabhal also works closely with other Irish artists such as Róisín El Cherif. She recently released ‘All the Time’, a song that seems to pay homage to the Celtic queen The Morrígan over Samhain, where Diabhal worked alongside her to create the animation for the track.

You can subscribe to Diabhal’s Patreon account for only five euro a month and gain access to his current comic series which is an elaborate story of the first Irish settlers, inclusive of the Tuatha Dé Danann in modern Irish culture: http://www.patreon.com/Diabhal666

You can also find him on Instagram: @_diabhal666_