At number 14 Wexford Street, in Dublin, you’ll come across a shop that stands out amongst the rest. This is the Decor Furniture Gallery. Outside the shop you’ll find a myriad of different chairs piled high and inside the dimly-lit shop you’ll be met by the sight of tribal art, a fossilized whale skull, bronze sculptures, colourful paintings and much more. The Circular had a chat with the in-house artist, Darran Robinson or “Dr. Dublin” as he goes by.
His artist name was actually given to him by the Dublin public. Robinson explains that, “I didn’t come up with it, I’m Darran Robinson, so on some early work I used to sign everything D.R. I made these big robots and there’s one of them down in Dawson Street and I signed it DR Dublin and I listened to people walking by, going “oh, that’s by that Dr. Dublin fella” and it was the Dr. Dublin thing that stuck.That’s the humour and wit of your average Dub- turning me into Dr. Dublin“.
Robinson is also an avid art collector and you’ll find both his and other people’s art for sale at the Decor Furniture Gallery. Robinson informs that, “I’ve always collected things since I was a kid. I think when you’re a collector, you just collect. And then I just always loved art, so you start collecting and I’ve got loads of art at home as well. You can get different inspiration from different people’s art. You get loads of different things that pop in. Even if it’s a colour, you might have a favourite painting that’s a completely different style to your own, but there might just be a shade or a lump of paint at the back that just kind of gets you and you use that. You’re always kind of taking from somewhere else. Stealing!“.
Robinson sources other pieces of art from all over the world. At times, he’ll buy the contents of a house and in other instances he’ll buy art from businesses or people who come by the shop, such as students. It all just depends on whether Robinson likes it or not, as he will not sell anything he doesn’t like. The Decor Furniture Gallery has been running for 25 years and he has been selling his own pieces for about 17 years. His work is mainly sold overseas, especially in Germany and America. Around 10% of his work is sold on the Irish market and he explains that selling his pieces on the Irish market can be challenging, “I do think that I’m in the wrong city for my shop and also for my business and for my art. I should be in the States or somewhere else, but Dublin is great craic. I love Dublin“.
Darren has been doing art his entire life, “I always did stuff at home, but I never used to show anyone because I was kind of very shy about it. I don’t know. I came from a working class background and I had to go and work and I’m dyslexic, so you’re always told you were stupid at school. Art was kind of my own personal thing and it was only that my wife liked it. I also used to get drunk and just give the art away, or sometimes I’d paint the same picture on the one canvas. I’d buy a canvas and I’d do 50 paintings on the same canvas. I didn’t consider myself an artist“.
His wife encouraged him and put some of his pieces in the shop. They started selling and Robinson thought he had to go to college to be an artist. He went to the National College for Art and Design. Robinson disliked the fact that he would have to explain why he did what he did with his art, “I used to just go to the studio with a bottle of cognac and get pissed and paint loads of stuff and I didn’t know why I did that because I couldn’t remember painting some of the things, so then it was just whatever came out. I went to college for them to tell me I was an artist, and it was good technically, but otherwise it kind of drained me creatively. They tell you that you have to go this way, when you don’t, you can just do your own thing“. Robinson believes you should just make what comes to you and not what you’re told to do, which is also why he couldn’t undertake commissioned work.
When asked about where he gets his inspiration from, Robinson explains, “A lot of my work is very dark, and I’m not. Well, I don’t think I’m dark. Anytime I make anything it just turns out really dark. But I don’t see things as dark, as I see skulls as the future. I’m going to be a skull, so it makes me open up another bottle of wine, or go to a party and have a laugh, and try and do something mad because it makes me really want to live, so I don’t see it as a morbid thing. I see it as making me live better now. When I look at a skull it reminds me that I need to buy a nicer bottle of wine that I think I can’t afford“. Robinson never really considered himself an artist as mentioned earlier, “It was just something I had to do. The art keeps me sane, otherwise I don’t know, it keeps me out of the mad-house. I just did it and I think everyone should just do it. As kids, everyone just paints and does things, and then the world tells you that you can’t. You have to be “labelled” to then say that you’re an artist or you’re this and you’re that“.
One of his favourite pieces is called “Beauty in Death“. “It’s a fossilised whale skull. I was looking for one of those for years and I went to Hong Kong and around China and a few other places looking for it, until I found the right one. It came from Papua New Guinea. It was in a cave there and it would have been a great documentary because it took 30 guys to take all the pieces out and get them up a mountain. We got 18 pieces of the whale in total“. Robinson took the pieces to Bali to work on them at his house there. The whale skull has a kilo of silver on it and there’s a tonne and a half of steel holding it up. The skull is supposed to look like angel wings and, also, part of the female anatomy.
The main drive behind his art is making it better, “It’s a journey, seeing how it changes, because it depends on your mood. If you paint something or make something it’s very hard to re-do the same thing again. It depends on what I’ve been drinking or eating or if I’ve had a row or if the missus or the kids are at the back of my head, or if it’s a beautiful sunny day and I feel amazing. It’s a big thing to do with mood, but also any artist should just keep on doing it. I do something everyday and you get something out of it. Just sitting on your arse watching the telly is no good“. Robinson makes sculptures, paints and creates street art. He prefers to sculpt, but creating bronze sculptures is very expensive and this had led to him painting more than he sculpts. He enjoys painting big mouths, but finds that since he is a sculptor, he feels that he has to push himself when he paints and to prove to himself that he can create more technical pieces even if he doesn’t enjoy it as much. Robinson plans to go back to just creating what he likes with both sculptures and his painting.
Robinson’s art has been displayed in many different places in Ireland and abroad in places such as Shoreditch in London. His first exhibition outside of the shop was in a gallery called Gallery 14 and at many others such as Ebow Art Gallery in Dublin and for Toni and Guy in Belfast. He was also featured in a documentary by a German channel called Arte TV. At the moment you can find his art at the Decor Furniture Gallery, at the wine bars Bagots Hutton and Red Bank, and in Duke Street Gallery. He has a show coming up in Cork in November and there will be a new show in the Duke Street Gallery when a shipment of his latest sculptures from his home in Indonesia arrive. This includes bronzes of a huge crocodile and giant apes.