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The Power of The Brush

Written by: Cristina Deptula

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The Transformative Journey of Dameon Priestly:

Mastering the Art of Social Narrative

Dameon Priestly isn’t just another artist. Rather, he is a storyteller who defies the constraints of time. Through the strokes of his brush, he weaves tales that connect history to the present, the visible to the invisible, and the art to the viewer. To look at a painting by Priestly is to look at our world through a different lens—a lens that challenges us, confronts us, and begs us to question the status quo. Born in the uneasy climate of Belfast in the 1970s, Priestly has come a long way, both geographically and artistically.
Dameon Priestly came of age during one of Northern Ireland’s most tumultuous periods of conflict between Catholic and Protestant political interests, known as “The Troubles.” The impression left by the social unrest during his formative years was inevitable. “Even though I haven’t lived in Belfast since 1998, growing up there during those turbulent times shaped me for sure,” he confides. He knew he was meant to be an artist ever since he was very young, and even as chaos unfolded around him, his connection to art provided a constant sense of purpose and escape.
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Chronicles on Canvas

It is perhaps no surprise that Priestly’s art “focuses on times and events of social and cultural change, often set in an historical context, but with direct relevance to the present.” His art tells stories—of the marginalized, the forgotten, the heroes, and the villains—always with an eye toward justice. “What interests me is social justice and movements born of social upheaval,” he shares.   Priestly takes a journalistic approach to his painting, considering cultural history as the most critical aspect of his art. “The thing that interests me most is getting the facts of the story or subject as accurate as possible, in a visually striking or engaging way. It’s always all about the narrative.” Priestly’s rise to international fame—he counts Spike Lee among his collectors and has created artwork for three of Van Morrison’s albums—hasn’t changed his fundamental approach to his craft. His back catalog, stretching to 2001, bears testament to this consistency. “What I have learned is the confidence of not having to prove my techniques to myself or my audience in order to create a successful piece. I’ve nothing to prove other than my commitment to the subject. My abilities are stronger, simply through constant hard work,” says Priestly.
He claims renowned American author John Steinbeck’s gritty aesthetic as an inspiration. Quotes from Steinbeck’s novel “Cannery Row” grace his website, drawing a literary parallel to his visual work. “Cannery Row is simply one of my favorite novels. The beautiful language is something I aspire to create in my visuals. It’s real. Real life and oftentimes, too real. Which I’m naturally drawn to,” he explains.   Like Steinbeck, Priestly isn’t one to shy away from difficult or controversial topics.   “Not all art can or should be purely decorative. Some art should ask the viewers to fully engage with it…even if it’s about things you’d rather not think about,” he says.
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Craft Driven by Empathy

In his “Missing” collection, for instance, involving American women who disappeared, and were likely murdered, at truck stops and train stations, Priestly chooses to focus on the victims rather than the perpetrators, challenging the news and entertainment media’s fascination with criminals over victims.   He reflects on how growing up in Belfast, in a neighborhood that has seen so many horrific acts of violence during the Troubles, gave him empathy for the victims of murder and assault. “If something unspeakable has happened to someone in a place, does it seep into the soil? Can people who come by feel it?” he speculates.
He presents these stories in a way that exposes the biases of law enforcement and society based on race, class, gender, and occupation. These pieces also serve as an implicit critique of the consumerist American Dream for a better life: criminals who come to believe they are entitled to “consume” and possess other people kidnap and kill women who are often traveling out of small towns for greater opportunities.   

One of the more stirring aspects of Priestly’s work is his ability to empathize deeply with his subjects, particularly those who have suffered historical injustices. In his collection “The Shopgirl,” he tackles the bleak existence of Victorian London’s store clerks, whose lives were fraught with health problems and societal limitations. Priestly also explores the lives of women imprisoned in the infamous Magdalen Laundry asylums.   

In collections such as “Die Kleinen Geister,” which looks at prostitution in 19th-century Vienna, or “I Am Not,” focusing on the American civil rights movement, he engages with topics often ignored or sidelined in fine art. The paintings embody the struggles and victories of his subjects.
In his “I Am Not” series, Priestly captures iconic images from the fight for equal rights for Black Americans. “The images depicted are of peaceful protest, segregation, death, despair, defiance and belief,” he points out.    

His “Harlem” collection extends this visual narrative, and his “Crossing the Line” series offers a poignant look at the bitter-sweet story of Jesse Owens, the Olympic gold medalist, who defeated Nazi Germany’s athletes on the field only to face discrimination and poverty at home.  

Yet, Priestly brings a sense of beauty to these works of social documentary through his rigorous dedication to craft. In “Die Kleinen Geister,” he evokes the atmosphere of the interiors of Vienna’s newly opened department stores through using gold and silver leaf, continental peacock blues, rich ochres, and regal purples. In ‘I Am Not,’ he incorporates text into his pieces printed in typefaces of the period.
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Turning His Lens Inward

His upcoming exhibition at the Belfast Exposed Gallery, Tripwire, will feature his most personal work yet, focusing on his childhood memories during “The Troubles.” It is a brave and unusual step for the artist, offering a first-person perspective that promises to be as raw and authentic as all his preceding works.  

“There are plenty of fabulous photographers, filmmakers, writers, poets, journalists, and musicians who have told their story of growing up in the Northern Irish conflict. However, there are precious few artists or painters of note out there who have approached this subject. Certainly, in respect to telling their own story, or experiences and feelings from a first-person approach,” he notes.  

Priestly rarely paints self-portraits, but has created 22 new ones for Tripwire and incorporated lyrics from popular songs of the time into the pieces.  

“The hook of the song lyric or a childhood naïve comment in the form of a diary account, lulls the unwitting viewer into a place of familiarity and comfort before waking them up sharply with the realisation that all is not well in the picture and the story being told,” he says.
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A Journey of Ceaseless Inquiry

What’s next for Dameon Priestly? “I will be looking at women artists and designers who have been largely looked over or forgotten about, from the 20th century,” he reveals. And so, Dameon Priestly’s journey as an artist and a historian continues. His art, however, remains a timeless record—each piece a chapter in the ever-unfolding story that connects us all to our shared human experience.
Dameon Priestly is a conduit for the echoes of change that reverberate through the annals of history. Through his art, he invites us into a dialogue with our past, challenges us to confront our present, and in doing so, allows us to shape our future. As his pieces hang on the walls of galleries, homes, and album covers, Priestly continues to write history, one brushstroke at a time.   The tale of Dameon Priestly is far from over, but its chapters already form an anthology of resilience, exploration, and ceaseless inquiry. It’s a story well worth being part of, one that speaks volumes even in the silent confines of a canvas. cropped troora favicon 1
Cristina Deptula
TrooRa Magazine
Written by
Cristina Deptula
California, USA
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