Gay artist fined 6000 pennies for his thoughts

A penny for your thoughts?

Not so for gay artist Christoff Gillen who was fined 6000 pennies for chalking his thoughts on the pavements in Belfast City Centre.

Gillen wrote the word “love” about 200 times as his artwork wended its way towards Ulster University’s art college campus.

While his road to the art college was paved with good intentions, council wardens moved in and hit him with a £60 ($A117) fine under anti-graffiti laws.

Gillen, 46, told the Belfast Telegraph he was taking part in an international festival of live art and a friend gave him a pop-up “rainbow hat” which got him to think about gay issues.

He said a member of the public began accusing him of daubing graffiti before police and council officials arrived after he had chalked up the word “love” about 200 times.

The artist said: “I explained I was doing this to create a rainbow of love to highlight the inequality as myself and the rest of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community in Northern Ireland are being treated differently with the equal marriage bill.”

A council spokesman said the fine was issued after Gillen informed a warden that he intended chalking the word ‘love’ 1000 times across city centre streets (without seeking prior permission) and under no circumstances could we allow him to do that.

We have issued one fine for graffiti under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2011, Part 4 (Graffiti and defacement section).”

Some accused the council of heavy-handedness for issuing a fine, given the city’s problem with graffiti when the installation caused no lasting damage.

However, Gillen had the last laugh – recruiting friends to help spell the word ‘LOVE’ at the gates of Belfast City Hall with the 6000 pennies collected to pay the fine.

But now, after taking legal advice, he has decided “not to pay the fine for the moment but to challenge it legally”.

I am taking legal advice on this. It is about the principle and I believe I am the only person in Belfast to be fined in the last year.

Other people write on the pavement. Some write inflammatory statements towards women and they have not been fined. It is ridiculous. All I did was try to spread the message of love.”

A friend of Mr Gillen’s said: “He is going to mount a legal challenge and see whether or not they will rescind it. So at the moment he is not going to pay.

The pennies were collected before he got this legal advice. But if the fine does not have to be paid it will go to a worthy cause which I think people will be happy with.”


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