Dean Kane - Visual Waste

Photo credit:  Bushmills UK

Photo credit: Bushmills UK

Thousands of tourists come to Belfast each year to see and learn the history behind the various political murals scattered throughout the city.

But in recent times there has been a dramatic shift away from the traditional political pieces to a new era of urban art.

One of the folks at the forefront of this movement is Dean Kane, the street artist known as Visual Waste. 

We caught up with Dean hear his story.

Check it out. 

If you walked into an elevator with Liam Neeson how would you introduce yourself?

Elevator pitch? I come from a background of all this stuff I've left it all behind. 

Basically my names Dean Kane aka Visual Waste and I am a self-employed street artist. 

If I was chatting to Liam I'd talk about Taken and say: that was a deadly film, bro - have you seen all the memes? How cool would it be to get that painted somewhere?

What got you into street art?

Ever since I was a teenager I was dabblin' with graffiti... when I say graffiti I mean it in every sense of the word, illegal and basically just putting your name places you shouldn't be.

Essentially what was happening was - yeah it was a bit of craic with your mates - but the work was terrible. You never really learned anything, you basically just wrote the same thing over and over again, there was no progression.

Visual Waste Belfast Street Artist.jpg

At the same time, I was pursuing a career in art through the traditional paths. I went to art college on York Street and studied graphic design.

The first year was great because it was really challenging, we weren't allowed to use any computers, we had to hand draw everything and I thought it was epic. But when year 2 came around and we started having to learn all the modern technologies I didn't really like it, I just wanted to go back to year 1. I knew there and then that illustration was definitely my passion and that I enjoyed doing it most the old school way. 

But I ended up working for a graphic design firm anyway and it bored me to tears... I call them mac monkeys and that’s exactly what I was.
Painting in the street.jpg

Basically I was pulling apple shots off apple trees - pumping out the same designs for the same clients in a very comfortable environment and lifestyle. It got to the point where I wasn't even drawing anymore - no sketching - all I did was do my job then on the weekend went to the shopping centres and out drinking just like everyone else. 

Everything changed when my daughter was born. There's something about having a kid that completely changes your mind-frame, it actually just blows your mind cause it's such a big thing. I was on paternity leave for a while and I remember being cut up driving in the car the first day going back to work cause it was the first time leaving her...

You know when you drive somewhere you have these mad deep thoughts about things? I said to myself 'I'm leaving my family to go to this job that I absolutely detest and am getting absolutely nothing out of it.'

Around that time I had a couple of good mates who had started up their own businesses and honestly I admired them and envied them at the same time. 

So one day after my daughter was born I grabbed a napkin from the canteen, wrote my resignation on it and walked away.

That same week I got my last paycheck so I had to start hustling pretty quickly to get some sort of a business off the ground. 

I decided to take a look at art again from a fresh perspective. I thought about delving into something that was completely different than what the typical path was and at that time graffiti had evolved massively around the world and I had missed that change.

So I just threw myself into it, started doing small wee jobs here and there for people and it developped from there. 

What did those first few jobs look like?

I started with personal wee pieces on canvas just on my own.

I didn't even have Facebook or any other social media but I created the online name 'Visual Waste' and started putting a few photos up and they started getting a bit of a response which I didn't think it would.

The likes and comments started rolling in so I kept making more. 

I just kept replicating and replicating and replicating that process and a following started to grow. Next thing you know the pieces went from canvas to doors, walls to eventually whole sides of buildings.

Photo credit: @ Peacethepoet

Photo credit: @Peacethepoet

All my work at the start was self-funded, I wasn't getting paid to do the work and no one was buying the pieces but I just kept making them. Looking back know I realise that I was building a portfolio and that was definitely key. 

After that, I started reaching out to businesses, showing them my portfolio, asking them what they thought and if they would be interested in commissioning some work.

Before I knew I started getting a few jobs. 

One of my first gigs was a nightclub and I actually painted a ridiculous amount of walls in just a day. I couldn’t even do that now, that’s how driven I was back then.

I really wanted to do it and I really wanted to do it right so I went full tilt on on that commission.

After that another nightclub contacted me, then a drinks brand, then another drinks brand and before I knew it big advertisers started using street art. Often now businesses will choose to go straight to a street artist instead of using a vinyl banner or something because they know people connect with it more. 

Photo credit:  @daragh_cuthbert

Photo credit: @daragh_cuthbert

It gathered momentum and it got to the point where I was building a portfolio and getting paid at the same time.

At the start I would take every job but now it's at the point where I can decide who I want to work with which is great because it keeps it interesting for me. 

What are you passionate about now?

I'd love to start and do a bit more traveling and expand the brand overseas.

Youtube has always been something that I've been interested in, I think it's a good opportunity to bring in some of that live performance aspect of street art that grabbed me in the beginning but also opens up lots of opportunities to collaborate with other artists, YouTubers and brands. 

I started a vlog a few months ago. It's a mixture between the everyday stuff like doing Dad stuff and doing Visual Waste stuff. I'd say this is my main focus right now.

What are some of the challenges doing a VLOG?

Definitely finding a balance, you know, now when I'm painting a job I always have to think about camera angles, taking my viewers on a journey and keeping them in the loop. Then there's the other side of it of finding the time to edit the videos and balance family life around that. 

But I enjoy it and sometimes the videos of me going through my everyday life get even more views then the big production video where I'm doing a gig so it's definitely something that I'm really enjoying and excited to see where it goes in the future. 

You just had your first fine art exhibition... tell us about that.


So I collaborated with Bushmills to put on an art show at The Gallery in Belfast on the Dublin Road as they were celebrated people who have taken alternative career paths for their new campaign #AnswerTheCall

They came to me and asked me what I wanted to do. At first I thought of doing an absolutely massive mural somewhere but then I felt that would have been too predictable so I decided to switch it up and challenge myself in a new way by putting on a fine art exhibition. 

I definitely enjoyed it but it was tough working on the paintings because every day I walked into the studio they were there just looking at me.

I'm used to working in the street or on someone else's premises so I'm not looking at it everyday.

I found myself constantly going back and working on pieces, touching them up and dabblin’ here and there even though they were done, so in the end I just had to lacquer over the top of them to stop myself.

Any artist will tell you that no painting is every truly finished and it was a real learning curve for me and one that I enjoyed a lot.

It was surreal having an official opening and was great to have every there to celebrate them. 

(Matthew: There's still a couple of pieces for sale if you guys wanna check them out and own your own piece of visual waste. Contact Dean for more info.)

If you could take '1st year of Art College Dean Kane' out for coffee what advice would you tell yourself?

I would say stay true to what you've been doing and don't let people box you in. 

Once you’ve identified a passion I would say go full tilt at it and go explore it, cause life really isn’t that long. 

If you're passionate about what you're doing, stick with it because a lot of people will go through their whole lives without even identifying what they're passionate about and most who do only have the opportunity to do it in their free time. 

Last question: where did the name Visual Waste come from?

Visual Waste came from the visual diaries that I kept (and still keep today.) I would basically do quick sketches, stick stuff in it and gather ideas and things I'm interested in.

Every time I finished I book I would just stuff them in a box and file them away - nobody ever sees them.

I stopped calling them visual diaries and started calling them visual waste. 

Conor McGregor Visual Waste Belfast.jpg
Essentially then when I started working outdoors and putting art down alleyways and anywhere else I could I was effectively ‘dumping visuals’ out onto the street the same way people dump other stuff. 

Some of my most popular work has been painted onto actual pieces of waste too like my Conor McGregor piece which was done on a scrap piece of cardboard. 

How to connect with Dean

Massive thanks to Dean for allowing us to share his story.

If you're interested in finding out more or connecting with him be sure to check out his YouTube Channel and subscribe. 

You can also show him some love on Instagram + be sure to tell him we sent you.

Dean will also be leading a Street Art Crawl for our next MeetUp on 24th September so be sure to RSVP if you fancy coming along to that. 

Visual Waste Answer The Call.jpg

Thanks so much for reading/listening.

Until next time,

All the best. 


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Show notes:

Spray can noise credit.
Pure Here Mural Video. 

StoriesMatthew Thompson