Design: The Next Decade – Hang Tough Contemporary

Posted July 14, 2021 in Arts & Culture Features

It’s been ten years since Hang Tough entered the scene. Now Michael Hennigan (Rubio) is ready for the next ten and tells us about his exciting plans to kickstart it and their current open call.

 It’s wild to think Hang Tough is now ten years old. Well done on all you’ve achieved. Can you share three highlights so far?

Opening the doors to our first shop, offering simple high street framing, on South Richmond Street in 2012 was one of our first highlights. A year prior to that I launched Hang Tough in a breezy studio above the Bernard Shaw pub, but making the move onto the street with passing trade enabled us to raise our profile. We quickly outgrew South Richmond Street, so we moved our framing production to a larger premises on Lennox Street.

In 2018 we renovated Lennox Street to facilitate our wood shop, spray booth, framing rooms, print studio, framing consultation rooms and our gallery space. In September we hit another highlight by launching this space with our ‘Grand Opening Exhibition’.

We wouldn’t be where we are today without the team in Hang Tough. They are the heroes behind the scenes. Hiring my first team member was a memorable highlight. It led to hiring more staff and widened the scope of our services.


How do you think Irish creativity and art have changed over the decade you’ve been in business?

Ireland was coming out of a recession when I founded Hang Tough, but creativity was thriving. There were exhibitions every Thursday and Friday from various curators nationwide. In Dublin, these events were hosted in artist-led creative spaces like Monstertruck, Pallas, Steam Box, South Studios, Hendrons, Block T, as well as commercial spaces like Filmbase and in other galleries like Zozimus. In fact, exhibitions were being displayed in all sorts of places like bars and retail shops. The result was a creative and cultural offering, spanning different mediums, being delivered to art lovers regularly.

I’m afraid to say that this scene seems to have dried up somewhat with a lot of these spaces now closed or redeveloped with very few unique locations, apart from official galleries, offering exhibitions. Irish artists have also suffered through the closing of these spaces, not to mention the high cost of living, lack of studio availability coupled with studio rental costs – it is a constant battle to survive, create and maintain practice. Some artists have moved out of the country, either for notoriety or, simply, just to maintain their practice without financial pressure. However, the artists that have remained are creating incredible work and creativity in contemporary art. Each generation of artists is still leading the way today with their innovative practices and the younger wave of artists that are breaking through are really very exciting. Creativity is still strong here in Ireland but more needs to be done to offer opportunity for artists. More events like the RHA Annual exhibition would be most welcomed, giving artists a chance to be involved in contemporary art on a larger scale. I’m hopeful that these opportunities will arise.


When did you “pivot” from framing the work to commissioning, curating and presenting works by those you admire?

Hang Tough Framing moved away from general high street framing options to offer a more contemporary approach to our service. Our frame profiles and mounting methods appeal to contemporary artists. From framing their work and from building relationships with our artist customers we started to promote their work through our own channels. This led to ‘Tough Love’ our first curatorial endeavour offering a modest selection of prints to our framing customers in South Richmond Street. From there, we curated and launched ‘Freedom Exhibition’, an exhibition of signed and editioned giclee prints in 2016 at The Bernard Shaw Pub. This show featured 40 artists picked entirely from artists from whom we framed for. As our customer base grew, so did their appetite for art so we curated two annual programmes of exhibitions in our Studio Gallery which led to some amazing collaborations with artists including solo exhibitions from David Booth, Neil J. Smyth, David Hedderman, Signs of Power, Shane O’Driscoll, Linda Brownlee and Ronan Dillon. Concurrent with these shows in our Studio Gallery, we also hosted smaller exhibitions in our old shop on South Richmond Street to include Cate Doyle and Helen O’Higgins as well as Jill & Gill’s pop-up shop. Now, our motivation is to bring more art to more people whilst also nourishing Irish visual arts culture and starting more people out on their art collecting journey.


You’ve chosen the reopening of society after one of the world’s toughest lockdowns to launch your latest endeavour, Hang Tough Contemporary. Why now, why South William Street and what is the aim and ambition of the upcoming shows?

Now, more than ever, Irish visual culture needs re-igniting. This expansion has come about as a reaction both to the abundance of exciting creativity and talent around us, and a recognition of the pent-up appetite among the public for cultural engagement.

Our aim is to make unique artistic talent readily available to an engaged audience. We aim to provide a platform for visual artists, while accommodating an experience where art can be appreciated and enjoyed in beautiful settings. With this in mind, we jumped at the chance to temporarily occupy two vacant spaces in the city centre and reimagine them as exciting cultural destinations in a time when artists, art and galleries all need nourishment.


Quick fire round…

+ The piece(s) you missed out on and regret the most

Anne Sophie Tshiegg released a series of paintings earlier this year and I hummed and hawed about them for a day and then they were all reserved. I also slept on a painting from Cian McLouglin’s current show ‘Madness and the Cure for Madness’. It would have been a worthwhile investment and a cherished purchase as he is one of my favourite painters of all time. Come to think about it I regret not smashing the buzzer on a Gill Button painting recently too. I was considering it in the morning, had made a decision about it in the afternoon, and it was gone by tea time.


+ The hottest rising star in the Irish art market right now

Aches is hands down Ireland’s trail-blazer. His work ethic, his skills and execution with both spray cans and brushes coupled with a strong social media game will see him at the very top. His murals are notorious, but I see him leading contemporary art in the near future.


+ Ireland’s best ever artist, in any discipline

A very tough question. I adore paintings. I particularly love anything from Mainie Jellett. Her paintings look fresh today and will look fresh in centuries to come. She was fundamental in the development of the modernism movement in Ireland inspiring and keeping company amongst other greats such as Evie Hone, Norah McGuinness and Louis le Brocquy.


What advice would you give collectors starting to buy Irish art and invest in artists? 

Building a collection takes time. Start with buying signed and editioned prints from artists you like. You’ll find your taste can change dramatically and quickly so don’t invest too hot too soon. Buy because you love the artist/artwork and not because someone else does. Push the boat out on that piece you do love by that artist you are infatuated with and don’t ever regret buying art. There is an unbelievable wave of young Irish artists breaking through at the moment, picking up an original piece from them at this stage in their careers will both kickstart your collection as well as encouraging them on to do more. When you start collecting pieces you become a lifelong supporter of these artists’ practices and you’re with them at every stage of their journey.


You have to live in the wilderness and you only get to bring one piece of Irish art with you. Who do you choose and what piece would it be and why?

Magnus V – An olive ash sculpture by Joseph Walsh would be a companion and grounding beacon. I could imagine myself staring at it as it constantly changes in the light throughout the day. Wilderness would feel like home. This piece would remind me of the materials we use every day, bringing my love for wood and art together in cascading joy. What Joseph can do with wood is just insane. The curvature, finish and scale is bewildering.


Where do you think the next ten years will take you and Hang Tough?

We are constantly evolving and adding to our service repertoire. With our superb designers Unthink we created a recognisable brand and a website which launched earlier this year. Our studio site includes a frame visualiser where our clients can visualise their own artwork in our frames as well as offering lots of information around archival framing. The plan is to now sit down with Unthink again and create an online national framework for printing and framing whilst also maintaining consistent, high quality archival, framing.

We will continue to collaborate with artists to publish beautiful prints through Hang Tough Editions. And whilst our pop-up galleries on Coppinger Row and Clarendon Street are a temporary solution we hope to find a permanent home for Hang Tough Contemporary in 2022.

In 10 years’ time I hope to be 46 with the same energy pushing Hang Tough, with our team to the forefront of artist services, whilst enjoying each and every collaboration along the way.

Words: Richard Seabrooke

Photo of Rubio: Ellius Grace

Hang Tough Contemporary presents ‘Nothing New Under The Sun’ by Delia Hamer which runs until July 18 at 1 Coppinger Row followed by a series of other exhibitions through to September 12.

Hang Tough Contemporary at 41 Clarendon Street launches with Fuchsia MacAree on July 15 and runs through to December 24.



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