Adam Doyle, better known as @spicebag.exe, knows a thing or two about going viral. The artist has been posting his work under the moniker since 2020 and has since garnered a strong following for his cheeky, inflammatory and satirical work. A scroll through his feed will show that his art varies in seriousness and style, ranging from gritty photography zines to a rather surrealist Billy Roll balaclava.
Doyle is best known for his Eviction Print, which he re-issued following the lifting of the eviction ban in March 2023. The piece is a reworking of a 19th century painting by Cork artist Daniel MacDonald depicting an eviction during the Famine. Doyle’s reinterpretation features real images of masked Gardaí and bailiffs at a Frederick Street eviction. Sales from the print, which is now sold out, have raised over €30,000 to be donated to homelessness charities.
Following his appearance on Virgin Media News’ The Tonight Show, I meet up with Adam to discuss his upcoming magazine and documentary.
Adam has beat me to John Fallon’s in Dublin 8 and is sitting outside in the sun. When I arrive, his demeanour is friendly and laid-back, and within five minutes he is handing me his phone and headphones to watch the trailer for his upcoming documentary project.
The film investigates the case of 20-year-old Terence Wheelock, who died in Garda custody in 2005. Created with filmmaker Michael Fitzpatrick, the documentary delves into the suspicious circumstances surrounding Wheelock’s death, hearing directly from his closest family members.
It is a powerful examination of a case that has been brought back into public discussion in recent years, with singer Gemma Dunleavy speaking about Terrence Wheelock at her recent live shows.
“There’s a lot to unpack there. [There’s] the possibility of serious police malpractice, and there’s a socioeconomic aspect to that as well; how he was treated as someone from the North Inner City. If a bunch of lads from the South Side had been caught stealing a car, I don’t think it would have been the same thing,” he tells me.
Adam tells me that he always wanted to make documentaries. He recalls watching Vice reports in secondary school and getting his first taste of the kind of work he’d like to make. Years later, Doyle would go on to write for Vice World News himself.
However, he soon dedicated his focus to Popular Front, a grassroots media organisation covering war and conflict. He contributes to their podcast, zine and documentaries, and cites founder Jake Hanrahan as an important mentor in the field.
“There’s a lot of great journalism in Ireland but there is a space for hard-hitting, gnarly, underground stuff. As a nation, Ireland likes to present itself as this friendly, happy-go-lucky place, which in many ways it is – but there is also poverty, addiction, stuff like that,” he tells me.
The upcoming Terrence Wheelock documentary is part of a wider project that collates Adam’s journalistic and artistic ambitions into one place: a soon-to-launch magazine called Council.
Adam tells me that Council will cover Irish culture and politics and focus on highlighting lesser-documented sides of society, with contributors from notable Irish writers such as Caelainn Hogan, author of Republic of Shame.
The first issue includes features on artists such as Brian Lincoln, a photographer documenting life in Belfast, and MELVILLE, a Sheffield-based artist who creates gritty, collage-style interpretations of life in the North of England.
To create the magazine, Adam gathered a formidable team of creatives, many of whom he has been collaborating with over the last few years. He cites editor Fionn Thompson, designer Aisling Hannon, and photo director Clodagh O’Leary as key figures in bringing Council to life.
I ask Adam what motivates him to create his work. “I can’t not do this kind of stuff. I have to always be working towards something, even if it’s not super well thought out or professional. I don’t have any formal education in this stuff I’m doing, it’s all kind of self taught.”
For many artists, exposure is a double-edged sword. On the positive side, it gets them access to opportunities and helps their work reach a wider audience. On the other hand, the risk of their art being taken out of context is much higher – the reception to Adam’s Eviction Print feeling like a prime example of this.
A retweet from Eoin Ó Broin was the catalyst that launched Doyle’s work into mainstream consciousness. The piece sparked numerous debates on Twitter, with Antoinette Cunningham deeming it “insultingly wrong” for its alleged anti-Garda sentiment.
“I think the best thing that ever happened to me was my work being taken out of context,” he says with a grin. “It’s art, so people are more than welcome to interpret it whatever way they want. [On The Tonight Show], I was getting slammed for the politically motivated aspect of the piece, but I’m not a politician. I’m entitled to my own views on society. If I want to talk about that in my work, and if people want to kick off about it and take it out of context, that’s their prerogative. I don’t really worry about it.”
It’s a refreshing perspective, and one that rings true to the nature of his work. The profile picture of his @spicebag.exe account calls to mind the logos emblazoned on An Garda Síochána uniforms, a wry touch alongside his posts criticising these institutions’ involvement in societal issues. Click onto the @council.gram account and you’ll find harrowing footage of illegal evictions posted next to ironic, meme-esque content; an absurd mix of horses, Supermacs, and a zoomed-in photo of a Guard urinating in public.
It’s this juxtaposition of high and low art that makes Adam’s art so uniquely relevant. His ability to deftly balance political commentary alongside iconic Irish iconography is what gives his work such a strong cultural appeal. It is art for a generation that watched the housing crisis worsen under governments run by landlords, and who struggle to find overpriced housing in a city full of abandoned buildings.
Adam’s art reflects the true absurdity of our situation, which sometimes feels so dire that you can wonder if you’re living in a different universe than the people running the country. When you grew up online and are wondering how it all came to this, sometimes all you can do is stare into the abject depths of the void and make a meme about it.
When asked about the first time his work felt like it made a tangible impact, Adam references a poster he made for Kneecap in 2019, featuring Arlene Foster and Boris Johnson tied to a firework on top of a bonfire. “I was working in a phone repair shop at the time and remember hearing them on the radio talking about it. The DUP were kicking off and it caused a bit of an upset. It was obviously very tongue-in-cheek but people got very stressed about it.”
“That’s when I realised: oh shit, there’s definitely a market here to annoy people. If you can make a point about something, then challenge authority through your work. Even if the response to that is vitriolic and scolding, it’s still a great response to get, because it means you’re upsetting someone; and, if that’s an establishment, there’s no harm in that.”
With Council and the Terrence Wheelock documentary set to launch soon, I ask Adam if he has any plans up his sleeve for his next big project. “I have something, but I can’t say it, because it’s such a good idea that someone will probably steal it.” He says, smiling ruefully, and I believe him.
“I’m still quite young,” he adds, “I’m 26. I’m happy with my output so far, and I’m probably better than where I imagined I’d be. There’s no huge plans [except] to keep doing what we’re doing. The ideas just come and the more traction we get, and the more access we get, and we can do cooler and cooler things.” With that, the sun shines warm on our faces, and we order another pint for the road.
Words: Kerry Mahony
Council launches this Thursday June 8 in the Racket Space at Bernard Shaw. The launch will feature exhibitions of artwork and photography contained in the magazine, a DJ set from Mango Dassle and an exclusive screening of an extended trailer of Council’s upcoming Terrence Wheelock documentary release, created with filmmaker Michael Fitzpatrick.
There will also be exclusive merchandise available at the launch, with an exclusive collaboration between artist Melville and photographer 1EuroFiddy available alongside Council merch. Attendees will also be able to purchase limited edition copies of the magazine, featuring a special foil-laced cover. A limited number of these are available for purchase.
Doors: 7, Screening: 7:45, DJ: 8 onwards.
Tickets for the event are priced at €5 and available from Eventbrite. Every ticket purchaser can also avail of a free pint of Five Lamps, thanks to the generosity of Five Lamps and the Bernard Shaw.