A member of Graphic Studio Dublin, where she also works as Projects Manager and Master Printer, Flanagan’s work explores the search for utopia and the restless desire to be somewhere else …
You work in both print and collage, how do you define your style?
I have been working mainly in etching since I joined Graphic Studio Dublin. There is a strange sort of magic to the processes of etching, creating marks on a copper plate, entrusting it to a bath of acid to bite into the lines and marks, taking a proof on paper to see what has been etched, and what further work needs to be done. Slowly the print begins to evolve – I usually need around four copper plates to make up one image. Along the way, I proof and make colour decisions. A few years ago I began to incorporate collage into my practice. The collages combine monoprints, drawings, and elements from proofs or prints that do not make it into the edition. I love making collage pieces as it is a more experimental and spontaneous way to work, and one that complements the painstaking rigours of etching very well for me. It can be a great way to work out ideas, where I can combine elements from different prints in a piece together. I often think of the houses, trees and islands that feature in my work as characters within the landscape of the pieces.
How and where do you work?
I like to work when it is quiet, which can be tricky in a studio with 70 members, but I manage to carve out a few hours early in the morning, or at the weekends when I know I will be able to find the headspace to work uninterrupted. I have a studio at home as well, which really came into its own during the lockdown. I wasn’t able to make any etchings during lockdown, but I had time to focus on collage work, and also I began to explore mokuhanga, Japanese woodblock printing, a technique that can be done at your kitchen table. The technique is demanding, and I have a lot to learn, but it is great to have a print technique that I can take with me anywhere in the world.
Can you tell me about your most recent prints and their inspiration…
I create initial images from sketches. I draw from memory, sometimes using photographs as a reference point. Colour is very important for me – I will often have a palette worked out even before the drawing is finished. The layering up of delicate layers of colours using spitbite is one of the great joys of etching. My work explores ideas of safety and containment, loneliness and isolation. I am interested in utopias, the idea of escape, and the impossible perfection of faraway places. The motif of the house is central to my work, conjuring notions of safety, community, and stability. Often however these anthropomorphic houses appear to suggest the opposite, alone in an isolated landscape, or staring out on precarious stilts surrounded by water. We may think we are on solid ground, but sometimes that ground can be shakier than we realise!
My prints have a dreamlike quality that I hope allows the viewer a space in which to contemplate. The titles in my prints often suggest a narrative or a story, something going on beyond the image. These prints could be stages set for action; the ambiguity of what that action might be is something that appeals to me. I see the pieces as a space in which to dream, to ponder the improbable, to make the unreal seem real, if only for a fleeting moment.
You are both project manager and printer at Graphic Studio – when did you become involved with the studio?
I joined Graphic Studio Dublin shortly after graduating from the National College of Art and Design, and found there a community of artists with a wealth of knowledge and experience. I felt supported and encouraged as I made the transition from student to professional artist, learning from members who had decades of experience, who were generous with both their time and their expertise.
I soon became heavily involved in the studio, editioning work for the studio publications such as the Visiting Artists Programme, organising residencies and exhibitions, and taking part in Graphic Studio Gallery’s exhibition schedule. In 2009 I was employed by the studio as a Printing Assistant to Studio Director Robert Russell, where I learnt many of the finer details of making prints, working with artists and printing editions. I am still learning to this day – there are always problems to be solved and new and creative ways of working, which is what excites me most in my current position.
The studio has achieved so many great things – collaborations with poets, writers and artists, projects with the National Gallery of Ireland, Chester Beatty Library, Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris, community outreach and education programmes, introducing a wider audience to fine art printmaking, and a recently launched Friends Programme.
Need to Know: Niamh Flanagan’s work is part of the “Diamond Point” exhibition at Graphic Studio Dublin, Temple Bar which will be on display until January 16; www.graphicstudiodublin.com.
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