A chat about curiosity, collaboration and creativity with Michael and James Fitzgerald, the duo behind The Project Twins.
For twin brothers Michael and James Fitzgerald, joining forces creatively wasn’t something they thought too seriously about. Originally hailing from Cashel (“the cultural centre of Tipperary,” Michael jokes), the pair moved to Cork to study graphic design aged just 17.
During their college years they worked on some small projects for friends, mainly designing gig posters and album artwork. During their studies they found inspiration in art from across the globe. Poster art from the ‘50s and ‘60s has remained a life-long influence for the pair, who recall memories of poring over art books about Polish, Czech and Cuban poster design in college. Indeed, you can see these similarities in the Twins’ print work, which is laden with vivid colours, bold shapes and strong energy.
After graduation, the pair went their separate ways to travel and work in Australia and New Zealand. At the tail end of 2008 they returned home to Ireland during the height of the recession.
“There was no work or anything,” James reflects. “So we landed back in our parents’ place, both on the dole. We started doing bits in graphic design and working with the Cork Film Festival.”
This moment was when the pair decided to officially start working together. They were wary that calling themselves a design studio could pigeonhole themselves in the future.
“The ‘twins’ part of our name is obvious, but the ‘project’ element… Well, everything felt like a different project for us at the time.”
With that, The Poject Twins was born.
The name speaks perfectly to the brothers’ varied body of work, which spans across painting, print-making, design, illustration, 3D, and more. Although they work in a wide range of disciplines, they state that everything they do stems from the design aesthetic they learned in their college days. “Graphic design came first because that’s what we studied, then we started making prints,” notes Michael. This led to bigger public art projects, including a mural commissioned by Facebook.
“I think being based in Cork definitely influenced our work. When we started we were the only illustrators we knew, and all of our friends in our studio had more fine art backgrounds. You get influenced by the people around you. Getting into exhibitions with friends allowed us to experiment and move outside of just design and exhibition,” Michael says.
In the two decades they have spent living and working in Cork, the brothers have carved out a comfortable space in the Irish art scene, becoming known faces in the city’s artist community.
“It’s a nice city to be creative in, but Cork has similar problems to Dublin,” says James. When they started out, the city had many spaces for creating art. “Nobody had much money, but there were spaces to create and make work. Now many of them have been knocked down with nothing else gone in. They’re just derelict sites. There’s still a lot of artists here but it’s getting harder and harder to find spaces to work in. We’re getting pushed further outside the city now.”
Their frustrations on the changing landscape of Cork city are shared with artists all across Ireland, raising important questions about the space for art in Irish cities. They are members of Sample-Studios and create many of their works in the Churchfield space.
No one day is the same for the Twins, and the diversity of their work keeps things interesting
“Our favourite commercial work is editorial illustration. We do a few every week. We like the tight turnaround, and the themes are very interesting, especially political or social ones. There’s more freedom in editorial work and you can be a bit more weird and experimental.”
For the last four years The Project Twins contributed weekly to The Guardian, and they do a monthly illustration for Nature Journal alongside an assortment of other publications. A glance on their website depicts the sense of experimentation they speak about. Their editorial illustrations skillfully depict subject matters such as the US political climate, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war on bodily autonomy. Their ability to distill such fraught, nuanced topics into a single image is their calling card, exemplifying why the pair are continually getting commissioned by publications across the world.
At the time of our interview, Michael and James are in the midst of preparation for their upcoming exhibition at Hen’s Teeth. The pair were working on a series of woodcut prints when they were invited to do an exhibition at the Dublin 8 gallery and art store. They developed the project further, creating the pieces that will make up the exhibition.
The exhibition, entitled Bláth, Bláth, Bláth, explores the space between nature and the computer through “awkwardly and anxiously drawn flowers”, a frequent motif in The Project Twins’ work. Merging digital aesthetics and analogue production techniques, the exhibition promises to be varied, striking and imbued with the brothers’ signature sense of visual curiosity.
With a busy future on the horizon, they have no plans of slowing down soon. Some people might struggle with having their career and creativity intrinsically linked with their sibling, but for the Twins it comes second nature. Michael states that being siblings “allows us to cut through a lot of bullshit quickly”.
“You don’t have to be diplomatic, you can just get straight to the point and move on.”
Despite this comment, the pair rarely have big disagreements about their work – likely due to their art practice forming during their teenage years in college.
The pair agree that they enjoy the collaboration that comes with working in a duo.
“Working as an artist or illustrator is kind of lonely as well; you can be stuck in your bedroom or studio. Having someone to bounce ideas off of is nice.”
James adds, “Everything we do comes from initially working together. Like that, our style and way of working has developed together. It’s almost like we’re one artist and one voice.”
Words: Kerry Mahony
Bláth, Bláth, Bláth by the Project Twins, a print and sculptural exhibition will run in Hen’s Teeth Store until May 8.