First Fortnight preview: Ahead of his exhibition BAD-MAN Oh Man as part of the First Fortnight European Mental Health Arts and Culture Festival, artist Shane Keeling outlines why he wanted to explore the phenomena of loss and suicide and their relationship with masculinity.

Ireland’s suicide rate among young people aged between 19 and 24 is the fifth highest in Europe.

Demographically, men in this age bracket are three times more likely to take their own life. It’s scary.

This is also the age group to which I belong. And the reason for this frightening statistic? Well, I believe our tribe-like, Irish lad culture is particularly responsible.

From BAD-MAN Oh Man by Shane Keeling

I went to an all-boys school in Wexford. The only friends that I had during my school years were all guys. I was very much a part of this lad culture. It was only when I left that environment that I started to realise the errors in my own thought process.

Irishmen do not allow each other to display feelings outside of violence, aggression and manliness. Social status depends on how loud your car is, how many girls you’ve slept with, how class you are at GAA or how handy you are in a scrap.

My hope is that when young men see one of their own flying the flag for mental health and calling for a shift in our social construct, it will give them the courage to do the same.

Anyone with other interests outside of these are ridiculed, bullied and deemed insignificant by their peers. This culture instils young men with a feeling of inadequacy and unmanliness when experiencing emotions that reach beyond those of primal instinct. Couple this idea with traumatic childhood experiences, the loss of loved ones, financial and romantic difficulties and Ireland’s ever grown drug and alcohol abuse - then you have a deadly cocktail which makes men believe there is no options or hope of recovery outside of suicide.

From BAD-MAN Oh Man by Shane Keeling

My body of work, entitled BAD-MAN Oh Man, will hopefully engage those who see it in an open dialogue necessary to continue the battle against suicide and isolation by the stigma of mental health. BAD-MAN Oh Man challenges the audience’s perception of masculinity in an attempt to depreciate the hold that lad culture has on our young males. Each iteration in this series personifies the human form in a raw primal, stripped backed manner. It is a depiction that abandons the photo-realism of the external body in order to reveal the emotional human body; a genre similar to August Walla, Oswald Tschiner and Wu Yulu.

I also researched artists such as Emery Blagden, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas who make sculptural works glorifying objects of the everyday. My style of aesthetics expression is inspired by (art movement) Art Brut. My research into Art Brut has influenced me to not be so precious with my work, as well as experimenting with a wide variety of materials and mediums in an expressive, carefree manner.

From BAD-MAN Oh Man by Shane Keeling

Each of the ceramic vessels I created reference characterisations of the male form.

My hope is that when young men see one of their own flying the flag for mental health and calling for a shift in our social construct, it will give them the courage to do the same.

BAD-MAN Oh Man will be exhibited at Wexford Arts Centre from Monday January 14th to Saturday 16th - admission is free, and full details can be found here.