The Works – 30 years of the B&A / Graphic Studio Dublin Comission
The research company Behaviour & Attitudes was established in 1985. The Attitudes in the title was particularly appropriate as the company didn’t just research attitudes, it had attitude. Behaviour & Attitudes arose in the time-honoured Irish tradition of the split, though without acrimony. The three founders, Graham Wilkinson, Des Byrne and Phelim O’Leary had worked for Irish Marketing Surveys, but all three shared the conviction that market surveys as they were then configured did not represent their real potential. They were, in that sense, prophets of the information age.
Now, what one might term surveys are built into every swipe and click in the online world, though the legwork is done largely by automated software programmes. 1985 was over 20 years before the advent of the iPhone and Facebook. Within the technological limitations of the time, B&A worked on the basis that information was a valuable, versatile resource, and the company built its business accordingly.
In 2010, Graham Wilkinson observed that B&A’s excursion into fine art began almost accidentally, as an answer to the question of what they would send to clients as a Christmas thank-you – not to mention as a reminder of how valuable their custom to B&A had been. And it began with a gesture that might have scuppered the whole process: they sent out copies of a collaborative book, In the Land of Punt, by poet Paul Durcan and painter Gene Lambert. As the title hints, and as Wilkinson realised when he read it – after it had been dispatched – it “contains some pretty dark stuff, I mean very dark stuff indeed.”
Rather than retreating, they came up with a more ambitious plan or rather, formulated a plan when they got together with James McCreary and Mary Farl Powers in the Graphic Studio Dublin. Originally established in 1960 and initially located in a basement studio space on Upper Mount St, the Graphic Studio became the centre of fine art printmaking in Dublin.
In 1983 the Graphic Studio gained a small exhibition space in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre and moved to a substantial new premises on Green Street East in Dublin’s Docklands, then a remote, neglected precinct. The building had been a bicycle factory and a publishing warehouse. Spacious but extremely cold – Brian Lalor commented on the “bone-searing cold” of the double-height main space in his definitive history of the Graphic Studio to date, ‘Ink Stained Hands’ – the studio was under the strict rule of Farl Powers. Wilkinson described it accurately enough as “Dickensian” when he visited it (now the studio is in a substantially more comfortable setting on the North Circular Road, and the gallery is off Cope St in Temple Bar).
Personalities came into play. Farl Powers was fearless and dynamic and McCreary unfazably calm and capable. Rather than, say, purchasing prints, B&A would commission its own prints, to be sent, suitably presented and packaged, as a gift. But it would be a work of art rather than a promotional product, produced in signed limited editions at the Graphic Studio – the promotion was in the presentation, and the presentation was devised and delivered by Killian O’Donnell, who provided apposite and witty commentary, and designer Steve Averill, both of whom managed to set exactly the right tone and were integral to the success of the enterprise. The first commission, in 1989, went to McCreary, a technical perfectionist. He was asked to make three prints. They are dark, intense mezzotint and aquatints. The lure in their titles (‘Lure I-III’) refers to the fact they are fishing lures, suspended in the depths.
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Images of the private view, courtesy of Gintaras Varnagys