No Justice for Lady Justice

In August 2012, as part of the annual Tall Ships Race, over a hundred classic sailing ships arrived in Dublin, and Dublin celebrated with a four-day festival featuring invited contributions from significant contemporary Irish artists. Among those asked to take part was the urban street artist known as ADW, who works with spray paint and stencils to create his images on city walls. Graffiti, which was once frowned upon, is now a recognized art form – but this time ADW’s picture got him into trouble…

His inspiration was outrage at the violent behavior of the police against the Occupy protesters of 2011/12. He expressed that outrage in a picture showing the figure of Lady Justice, blindfold and carrying her scales, being spanked by a baton-wielding riot policeman.

From the astonishing FEMEN sexual harassment demo of 2009 to the anti-censorship Manchester ‘Spankathon’ of 2015, spanking imagery is often used for public political protest, but ADW’s mural for the Tall Ships Festival went further than those. Lady Justice was not only being spanked, but spanked on her bare bottom – and that was unfortunate not only for her but for ADW too…

The festival aimed to be family-oriented, so the image raised some eyebrows and drew an objection. ADW accepted the argument and agreed to make an adjustment: Lady Justice would be allowed to keep her panties up.

But before he could put that agreement into effect, there came an intervention from the Irish police, the Garda. They were not amused by the criticism of their profession, and they wanted the picture removed altogether. Facing the threat of arrest should he refuse to comply with their crude censorship, ADW set about obliterating his work, assisted by his son.

ADW 00ADW 01

In its place, he left a sardonic comment, which later became the title of the picture: There Is No Justice: There’s Just Us.

ADW 02

But then the Garda ordered him to remove that too!

But the advantage of ADW’s way of working is that, although the finished picture is the one on the wall, a lot of the actual creative work lies in the stencil, and can therefore be reproduced. So he found another wall, and did it over:

Here’s one of the stencils:

ADW 03

And here’s the finished product:

ADW 04

Looks familiar? Of course it does: it’s based on Birney Lettick’s legendary ‘Back to School’ cover painting for the September 1975 issue of National Lampoon:

National Lampoon

Nothing wrong with that: for centuries, artists have adapted from other artists when they didn’t have live models to work with (we’ll look at some more examples another time), and what ADW did with his source material amounted to a new artwork. It was snapped up by the underground magazine Rabble, which published it as a center spread, and ADW later redid it as a piece of ‘indoor’ art on cardboard, and as a litho print with a limited edition of 80 pieces:

ADW 05a

If you are interested in ADW’s work, please visit his website, where copies of the spanking print may be purchased.

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