The New State; contemporary etching in Ireland
Mary Farl Powers
The New State: contemporary etching in Ireland
Over the history of art, the medium of etching has been recognised as being among the most artistic of printmaking methods. While other techniques such as metal engraving, relief printing, lithography, screen-printmaking and digital processes have all been employed to serve commercial interests, etching has been primarily identified with the fine arts. Employed traditionally, it is seen to preserve the ‘hand’ of the artist, as the image is drawn freely on the prepared plate. The plate, less cumbersome than a stone surface, less physically demanding than a wooden matrix, has been treated by artists in a variety of ways, like the page of a sketchbook or like the proverbial blank canvas. As an etcher, the artist is free to record, to respond to, to experiment with abandon or, conversely, to create in a precise considered manner.
Today, (when artists have more readily access to a photocopier or digital printer than a printing press) printmaking discussions often focus on tradition versus innovation. Yet despite this, it is reassuring to see the numbers of contemporary artists that continue to explore time-honoured methods as an essential part of their practice. The artists on display in this exhibition demonstrate a range of approaches in etching; from the creation of finely-drawn introspective works, to richly coloured painterly compositions, to explorations of memory through photographic means. Each of these artists was invited to work on a relatively large scale, signifying their ambitious intent for both the process and content of their work.
This exhibition has been curated as a response to an historical survey of Irish etching currently being held in the National Gallery of Ireland, entitled Making their Mark; Irish painter-etchers 1880-1930. Many of the artists included in the NGI exhibition lived abroad, as it was there that they found training, facilities, market and public appreciation for their printmaking. Those that lived in Ireland worked independently, such as Estella Solomons who was compelled to import her own printing press. And by way of a full cultural circle moment, Solomons’s press eventually found a place on the floor of the Graphic Studio Dublin.
The emergence of the Graphic Studio Dublin in the early 1960s marked an important milestone in Irish art. The establishment of the first workshop devoted to printmaking provided artists with the wherewithal to allow print to become an essential part of their creative practice. The studio provided training, facilities and, as printmaking is largely a collaborative activity, the creative support of a community with a shared purpose. To mark this legacy, a select display of etchings by former Graphic Studio Dublin directors Pat Hickey and Mary Farl Powers is presented as an addendum to exhibition. Both made an immeasurable contribution to the development of Irish contemporary etching, as makers, teachers and advocates.
The role of the print studio in Ireland over the last 60 years allowed printmaking to become a primary means of expression for many artists and later other print studios would emerge, including the Black Church Print Studio (1982), Cork Printmakers (1991) and the Leinster Print Studio (1998). The New State includes works by artists from each of these organisations.
The New State: contemporary etching in Ireland provides a platform for early career printmakers – each of the artists involved have come to medium within the last five years. A range of approaches is visible in terms of content, presentation and finish. A number of artists have looked to urban themes. Vaida Varnagiene’s stark and monumental images of Dublin architectural landmarks are presented as belonging to an anonymous international metropolis. These are in contrast with the shadowed descriptive treatment of the city’s suburbs by Ned McLoughlin. The rhythmic graphic beauty of the industrial space, presented in a multifaceted and fractured from by Ria Czerniak-Lebov diverges from Julie Ann Haines painterly and sweeping treatment of Dublin’s coast line which is dominated by chimney stacks at the Poolbeg Generating Station. Eimhin Farrell’s linear study of the historic Hope Castle Gates in Castleblaney comprises a series of states, navigating the viewer through the artist’s process of constructing a composition.
As in history, the landscape continues to engage Irish artists. For some they relish in its details, Josie McMorrin describes a West of Ireland view through a myriad of finely etched lines. Hilary Kinahan essentialises forms within the landscape, combing abstracted elements with calligraphic mark-making and a subjective colour. Angela Gilmour in her series of black white photo-etched images of the sea shore at Baile an Sceilg evoke memoires of sensory experiences, sight, sound, touch, smell. Deirdre McKenna, abandoning the reassurance of dry land, focuses solely on the mesmeric rhythms of the rise and fall of the sea surface.
The world of whimsy and fantasy is conjured in the illustrative work of Melissa Ellis; they are unapologetically decorative, appealing to forgotten childhood imaginations. Drawing from her collection of personal photographs, Miriam Hurley’s image of a child lost in its own world, obvious to the viewer’s gaze, is both emotive and challenging. In almost aggressive contrast Richard Lawlor’s theatrical spotlighted figure, is equally challenging as the viewer considers its dehumanised form. Fiona Kelly’s work also has an illustrative quality, her delicate, sparse images of finely observed flora juxtaposed with mechanical forms narrate the fractured, yet aspiring, relationship between the man-made and nature. The relationship between nature and humanity is also explored by Cará Donaghey. The almost obsessive, compulsive character of her undulating drawn lines from which natural forms emerge signifies how humankind grapples to find its place within its environments, both physical and emotional. The work of Dominic Fee and Sarah Roseingrave, challenges how prints are made, from the electronical to the handcrafted, and how they are presented, departing from the two dimensional to the three-dimensional.
The New State: contemporary etching in Ireland – which is jointly curated by Angela Griffith of Trinity College Dublin, Anne Hodge, National Gallery of Ireland, and Peter Brennan, Graphic Studio Gallery – celebrates a new generation of artists, and acknowledges their place within, and the importance of their contribution, to the legacy and future of printmaking.
Dr Angela Griffith, Trinity College Dublin
The New State exhibition is open from Friday 15th of March – 6th of April, 2019. The Gallery is closed on St. Patricks Day.
Studio / Process images
Images of opening night, courtesy of Gintaras Varnagys.
Vaida Varnagiene and Julie Ann Haines delivered an etching demonstration and discussed their work in the exhibition for History of Art students from Trinity College Dublin on the 25th of March, accompanied by Dr Angela Griffith, TCD, and Anne Hodge, National Gallery of Ireland.
Images courtesy of Gintaras Varnagys.