Sophie Scally, an illustrator and motion graphic designer based in Dublin, is making a splash in the art world with her provocative and experimental pieces. Scally explores the boundaries of shock culture and youth delinquency through a diverse range of media, including music artwork, mixed media, festival work, and more.

A graduate of the National College of Art and Design with a BA honours in Moving Image, her work is characterised by its raw, unfiltered, and often uncomfortable themes, and delves into critical issues such as addiction, dystopia, stimulation, and gentrification. With a keen eye for political nuance and a fearless approach to her subjects, Sophie Scally continues to challenge the status quo and invites viewers to engage with the darker aspects of contemporary society.

Modern Irish art is characterised by its diversity and its willingness to tackle challenging and often controversial subjects. Young artists are not only preserving Ireland’s cultural legacy but also reshaping it to reflect the complexities of modern life. Issues such as social justice, identity, globalisation, and political unrest are frequently explored in their work, mirroring global concerns while rooted in uniquely Irish experiences.

Institutions such as the National College of Art and Design play a crucial role in nurturing new talent, providing a platform for young artists to develop their skills and find their voices. Festivals, galleries, and art fairs across Ireland, such as the Dublin Fringe Festival and the Galway International Arts Festival, offer young artists opportunities to showcase their work to wider audiences.

Moreover, the advent of digital media has allowed these artists to reach global audiences, creating a vibrant dialogue between Irish art and the international art community. Social media platforms and online galleries enable young Irish artists to share their work, gain recognition, and engage with a diverse audience far beyond Ireland’s shores.

The rise of young Irish artists like Sophie Scally signifies a new era in Irish art, one that is bold, unafraid to confront uncomfortable truths, and eager to push the boundaries of creative expression. These artists are not just the future of Irish art; they are present, actively shaping and defining what it means to be an artist in contemporary Ireland.

We caught up with Sophie Scally to talk about her biggest influences, her artistic style and her upcoming projects. 

Are there any specific Irish traditions, folklore, or historical events that inspire your work?

My most recent exhibition collection was Irish erotic folklore/fairytale-inspired. There’s not any specific historical event or tradition that inspires me, I’ve always had an interest in Irish folklore, and some stories almost have an ethereal dark ambience that suits my work down to a T which is why I love to incorporate it into my practice.

How do you balance traditional Irish influences with contemporary artistic practices?

I felt my art was lacking something for a while, even if it was a visually outstanding piece of work it just wasn’t evoking any emotion. I started exploring topics related to Irish politics such as the social constructs of the Catholic Church and decriminalisation of sex work in Ireland. 

I realised the art I was making was good but I used extreme shock factors to get my point across and to try to convey a message. I then looked at taking traditional Irish influences such as all cash scratchies,  chicken fillet rolls, and Irish stamps as well as folklore, embedding them with political topics to portray a powerful message that could then slide into everyday life, showcasing satire, irony, hypocrisy and so forth. Which in turn helped me to accommodate my art to a wider audience while still having my points made and staying true to what I believe.

Can you share any stories or experiences from Irish culture that have deeply impacted your artistic journey?

I feel like my artistic journey relates back to simply just growing up in north Dublin, little things like going the hole in the wall for amber leaf when it was a fiver or picking up scratches off the leisure plex floor. When I got to NCAD  I couldn’t wrap my head around the social class dynamics. A prominent Irish area is being gentrified to suit the people who are attending the college. Student accommodation no one can afford being wrapped up around the liberties while Irish people are homeless on those very same streets. I remember I couldn’t afford a laptop till my second year of graphic design instead I’d use the library I was always behind on work cause of this so I started going back to those younger days looking for scratchers or deli stickers and then I’d scan them into my phone, take photos around the liberties and do tags and make posters on my phone to not fall behind. Unintentionally I redirected back to these habits I knew or remembered growing up when I fell out of my debt with art. I go back to topics from my area and I still find myself doing things to this day whenever I get an art block too.

Who are your biggest artistic influences?

There are so many but my biggest artistic influences are  Gasper Noe, Petra Collins, Judith Schalansky, Alice Maher, Anish Kapoor, Harmony Korine and brutalist architecture.

Can you share a bit about your background and how you got started as an artist?

I just remembered art always being a huge part of my life growing up. In school, I wasn’t particularly good or had much of an interest in any other subject except for art and also had a legend of an art teacher who pushed me to go further with it as a career and inspired me to take it way more seriously. I never realised art could be an option for me because it’s not the norm where I’m from. Being an artist in north Dublin it’s not seen as a priority or viable route to go down and the access to explore these options is limited. After school, I did a portfolio PLC for a year then went onto NCAD. Going to college and receiving my degree in what I’m truly gifted and passionate about has been joyful, cathartic and one of my proudest achievements to date. After graduating with a BA honours in Moving Image I felt deflated like I was thrown into the deep end. I went back to my retail job while deciding what to do next. I just remember being miserable not doing art or trying to pursue it, so I quit my job and started a new job in Seeking Judy, who was such an inspiration to get me back working creatively and from there on my own work took off. I went from a year straight of no commissions, fast forward to now I’m constantly booked up, it’s such a rewarding feeling to make a living off your passion.

How do you typically start a new piece of artwork?

Unless I’m given a specific brief I go through the mountains of notes and sketchbooks I’ve accumulated for inspiration. Some of my biggest inspirations are from film and I’m heavily inspired by film marking, directors, editors and so forth. I take notes on nearly everything I like whether it’s a font from one film or a sketch from years ago I can incorporate into something new. I think there’s something so magical about finding influence from a different field and applying it to your area of work.

What materials and techniques do you prefer to use, and why?

I’m known mostly for graphic design but my process involves a range of mixed media as well as multiple mediums. I carry a notebook at nearly all times and sketch shapes and structures I see throughout the day, I then incorporate them as the layouts for my digital work.

It all starts with a quick sketch, I then scan it onto my laptop, trace over the design, bring it into Photoshop and use After Effects for the finished look. I also create my own texture packs, if I find any interesting materials I’ll store and scan them to use as layers. After about 100 layers later we have a completed pack.

How has your artistic style evolved over time?

In college, I originally wanted to do sculpture. I never considered design as an option that would suit me. I was put into a course that wasn’t my top choice and in the end, it was the best thing that ever happened. It opened up the whole world of design for me. My style is completely different now, from body horror sculptures to motion graphics. It’s a huge jump in terms of style but it’s always nice to look back to see how far you’ve come and appreciate the full journey.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your artistic journey so far?

Honestly the lack of support for artists in this country. There are very limited resources as well as spaces. It’s almost like we’re fighting over scraps with each other rather than putting the energy towards the government to provide the basic necessities for our work sector and for more genuine support. The arts council is great for what they do but it’s not eligible for everyone. Studios and spaces in Dublin that are affordable are like gold dust. I’m lucky to have a studio that’s in my means but the gentrification of the city, and Irish cultural and artistic spaces has reached a boiling point where there are not enough facilities or means for this to be sustainable.

How do you stay motivated and inspired, especially during difficult times?

Art block is a killer for me sometimes even if I know what to do I can’t physically execute it. Art has always been my hobby. I would turn to it for decompressing but now that it’s my full-time job sometimes putting the pen down and taking a step back is the healthiest way to clear the head. Whenever I’m not inspired or in a rut, going to the beach and switching off with music helps me recoup.

What role has the Irish art community played in your development as an artist?

If anything it’s driven me, I surround myself with insanely talented and motivated people. I think surrounding myself with people who genuinely love art or music motivates me to keep going or branch out of my comfort zone.

How do you see the role of art in society, particularly in contemporary Ireland?

I Feel like art can be a way to bring social issues to light. I’m not great with words Expressing how I feel about the issues at hand but feel like I can always convey politics through art such as my all cash and scumbag designs which are both a direct reflection to the cost of living.

Where do you see your art taking you in the next five to ten years?

I’d love to be running my own Dublin-based graphic design studio along with a team of the finest designers. I’d also love to set up or be involved in some sort of funding scheme or bursary for artists.

Are there any upcoming projects or exhibitions you’re particularly excited about?

Yes, I’ve got a lot coming up to look forward to. Singer & songwriter Kayleigh Noble and I created an all-female run night in the city with multiple events planned across the summer, Working on some of Reboot’s most serious events such as Outset Festival which spans across Ibiza, Mallorca, Magaluf and Dublin. Along with my personal work, I’ll be releasing 2 publications. The first one l I want to create a visual interactive publication of various mixed media such as photography, interviews and illustrations. I wish to highlight the true beauty of the working-class aesthetic. Places and people that hold so much culture, talent as well as an abundance of undiscovered potential. The beauty in the wreckage of my everyday life experiences. Shock culture, experimentation, techno daydreams and youth delinquency are prevalent in this proposal. Aiming to touch on various themes such as substance abuse addiction and self-depreciative/destructiveness to creativity, community relationships, solidarity, subcultures and perseverance. I wish to create a publication that highlights and depicts true North Dublin, not a fantasised or glorified version but rather its true beauty and character. For my second publication, I loved the work I did for my degree show but felt I couldn’t achieve what I really wanted for this project due to COVID and lack of materials but this is a project I feel I’m not done with yet. Some of the issues I plan to explore are; what constitutes sex work and the category within sex work,  the decriminalisation of sex workers, and how to recognise sex workers. 

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