Running since 1980, the bi-annual Visiting Artists Programme is back in the Graphic Studio Dublin.
There are three things you should know about Graphic Studio Dublin. First of all, the Graphic Studio ‘franchise’ is split between the gallery in Temple Bar and the studio itself, which is in Distillery Court on the North Circular Road. The gallery is a commercial entity, holding exhibitions and selling prints, whereas the studio is for the 80-odd members to gather together, working collaboratively or alone, to store their paints, materials and tools (much of which is provided by the studio), learn new techniques, use the many facilities (like the acid room or the aquatint box), and generally have access to the kind of space that so many artists in Dublin crave.
The second thing you should know is that Graphic Studio Dublin is the oldest and largest printmaking studio in Ireland, which is no mean feat or minor claim to fame: established in 1960, the studio is situated in a 650-square-metre, four-storey building that was formerly a granary, built originally as part of the Findlater Mountjoy Brewery in 1852. It was, in the mid-19th century, the second largest brewery in Dublin after Guinness, and occupied an entire city block. I mention this because, not only does it give you a sense of space the current occupants now enjoy, but also it deserves recognition; for such a contemporary institution, where its principal representatives are so clearly focused on the future of the art of print-making, it’s worth noting that the roots of the organisation stretch back into the middle of the last century.
The third thing, and the focus of our attention in this month’s column, is that the organisation initiated a bi-annual “Visiting Artists Programme” in 1980, 43 years ago, which is still going strong today: from mid-October to mid-November, the gallery will exhibit the fruits of this year’s programme, featuring major new print works by Cian McLoughlin, Taffina Flood, Mark Francis and Richard Gorman. The central thought motivating this programme is to give artists with well-established practices, who are in one respect or another unaccustomed with the techniques of print-making, the opportunity to learn new skills, exchange their knowledge with that of the membership pool, and showcase the work they produce over the duration of the scheme.
It is difficult to speak about Graphic Studio Dublin’s VAP without paying homage to Niamh Flanagan, one of the two “master printers” currently employed by the organisation (the other is studio manager Robert Russell). Flanagan graduated from NCAD in 2002, and has since been involved in a number of residences and exhibitions in Oslo, Poland, Slovenia, Cork, Donegal, Edinburgh and Dublin. She joined the Graphic Studio in 2004 as a member, became staff in 2009, and, as programme co-ordinator with oversight of the Visiting Artists Programme, is an eloquent advocate for the endeavour.
“There is a commercial element, since, unlike the studio, the gallery is not Arts Council funded. We need to sustain that whole endeavour, and some of our running costs are quite expensive, like the inks we use, the paper we use, etc. Artists come in, create work, and we print at no cost to them. We split the edition, selling our share to cover costs and make some profit. They sell their share in our gallery. But really, it’s more than just commerce. I was speaking recently with James McCreary, studio manager at the time the programme was founded: he told me they had two aims in 1980. The first was to draw attention to the art of print in Ireland – after all, Picasso made prints, Matisse made prints; the medium has a long history and it’s important to draw attention to its presence in the economy of art-making. The second thing they wanted to do was to get great artists into the studio. For me, that’s the core. We have 85 members here, with 24-hour access. They know all the rules, the tricks, but when new artists come in, they challenge the norms, which is incredibly refreshing: when people who don’t know the rules come in, they question why things can’t be done differently. They’re unencumbered by our reasons for not doing things. It takes me out of my comfort zone, forcing me to learn, to stretch and grow. Members learn through collaboration with these artists, whether in the kitchen discussing their practices or sharing equipment, sharing techniques and tips.”
That said, Flanagan is keen to point out that this transmission isn’t only one way: in many instances, the artistic practice of the visitors is greatly enhanced by their experience at the Graphic Studio.
“When artists make prints, they work differently. Have you ever made a print? Think about etching: with an etching, you work on your plates. In painting, you make marks and colour choices as you paint. In etching, you make marks, but colour choices come later. You’re drawing and etching in acid, creating lines. For a colour plate print with four plates, you decide which plate is yellow, red, or blue, but your colour choices aren’t made yet. When you print it, you realise you can swap colours, altering the effect. It opens your mind to exploring colours and layering in a different way: people have told me that their experience of print-making changed the way they work.”
This tension between the processual features of print and an artist’s established visual practice is nowhere more evident, as a principle motivating the exploration of new modes of expression, than in the works by Cian McLoughlin. McLoughlin is best known for his impressionistic portraits of well-known Irish cultural figures, like Brian Friel and Michael Gambon, and his more recent work in abstraction, which reference the mood and ambient energy of crowds. Cristín Leach, on the opening of McLoughlin’s 2021 exhibition at the Molesworth Gallery, wrote that in, “the crowd, anonymity, individuality and belonging jostle. McLoughlin’s latest paintings dive into that space.” McLoughlin is still exploring this territory, and in the course of the VAP, produced two major editions: Stack Overflow and Madness and the Cure for Madness. In the former, plumes of white and shades of blue disperse into one another, a cloud-mass that is striated, strikingly, by brightly coloured columns, like strips of hyaline tape. In the latter, hues of red predominate, creating a porous bulk, as though one could pass through it, becoming saturated in its latent emotional charge.
McLoughlin’s editions (a print-making term that refers to the entire series of prints created from one single image) were then used by the artist as the framework for further experimentation: the Graphic Studio team produced five additional prints in each edition, and sent them to the artist’s studio. McLoughlin worked on each one, creating five new iterations, intervening on the base-image with layers of paint. The artist favoured the use of what are known as ‘oil bars’, a solid blend of oil, wax and pigment, which, intriguingly, hadn’t yet completely dried, even at the stage I saw them, just prior to being framed.
In addition to McLoughlin’s ‘post-edition paintings’ (also referred to as ‘monoprints’), Richard Gorman has produced several beautiful wood-block prints that feature the artist’s signature handmade Japanese paper; Mark Francis’s fluid and geometric prints refer to the qualities and representational tropes of sound-waves and oscillographs; and Taffina Flood’s new work captures the same vibrancy of her regular painted work on canvass, where the artist creates large, joyful abstracts that seem to almost sing with colour.
A provocative, entertaining show of contemporary print works, that once again demonstrates the resurgent interest in and momentum behind print-making in Dublin in the last number of years.
Words: Tom Lordan
The Visiting Artists Programme is on at the Graphic Studio Gallery on Cope Street in Temple Bar until November 18.