A print studio in Dublin’s Temple Bar, with some black spots in its history, has been a haven for artists for over 30 years. We take a tour.
There’s an old Dublin saying that goes “three times around The Black Church and you meet the devil”. The church eliciting superstition is off Parnell Square and gets its name from the dark Dublin calp limestone used in its construction. The belief was if you walked around the church anticlockwise three times, the devil would appear. It has been desacralised and currently houses offices, but at one point in the early eighties, it was earmarked as a space to be redeveloped for a print studio.
That print studio is now sandwiched in the city’s busiest tourist area, and just one floor up from the cobbled streets below, Black Church Print Studios hums quietly along. With only a heavy cast iron door at street level, and a small slip of paper above the buzzer to sign post it, it mostly goes easily unnoticed, but inside there are over 80 members creating across three floors.
Each floor of the studio caters for a different printing technique, with lithograph and relief printing on the first floor; etching on the second floor and screen-printing and digital printing at the top of the building. David McGinn, print coordinator and technician, walks me through the studios and explains, “Etching is actually the reason the studio formed. The heavy equipment that etching requires meant a need for a space that’s both communal and safe.” Historically, the materials used were quite dangerous and a health hazard. “There used to be a joke about printmakers not needing a pension,” David laughs.
Black Church was established in 1982. When they were getting ready to move into the former church off Parnell Square they, “paid the 26 pounds to get the business name registered, then checked out the building, got the grant from the Arts Council to make it fit for purpose, but found that is was completely riddled with asbestos.” To make it fit for purpose would have decimated their construction budget, so the founding members kept the name and found suitable commercial studios on Ardee Street in Dublin 8. “We moved in with all our equipment and were there until 1990, the big fire of 1990,” says David, when local kids broke into the studio – first to steal the petty cash box and then again to set fire to the place. The fire, aggravated by print materials and solvents, took hold and destroyed the building, the artists’ work, and most of the equipment.
Black Church decamped to founding member Sara Horgan’s kitchen while they looked for new premises, eventually securing tenancy with the state-owned Temple Bar Properties and McCullough Mulvin Architects were enlisted to create the custom-built studios in the former clothes factory. “It’s a small space but well-designed. You’ll find very few print studios around the world that are purpose built. Most are repurposed industrial spaces,” David says. Former member, Andy Folan, worked closely with the architects to let them know what a print studio’s needs were, from space for a vacuum press to dark rooms, wet rooms, and exposure rooms. The studios reopened in 1992 and have been disaster free since.
Aside from working with over 80 full-time members, who have 24 hour access to the building, Hazel Burke, the general manager, and David run a range of programmes to open up the studios to non-members. There’s an exhibition programme, with two shows a year in the downstairs gallery space, which include members and non-members working in printmaking of course, and other mediums.
Black Church also offer a range of printmaking workshops taught by a teaching panel made up of members; these are varied in their formats but are often open to beginners. Artists who don’t normally work with print can temporarily access the space to work with members to produce works or alternatively, once someone has been initiated through a workshop, they can access the studio for longer periods of time working on their own.
In a nice full circle, one of the architects who worked on the building, Valerie Mulvin was in two years ago making etchings. “For screen-print we always have graphic designers, for etching it’s almost always architects,” says David, From asbestos, to a disastrous fire, Black Church Print Studios have been around the block a few times, but are yet to meet the devil in this clever space. blackchurchprint.ie
In the January/February 2019 issue of Image Interiors & Living magazine we stated that architect and McCullough Mulvin director Valerie Mulvin had retired. This is incorrect. Valerie continues to be a principal component of the award-winning McCullough Mulvin firm and we apologise for the error.
WORDS Emma Dwyer PHOTOGRAPHY Aoife Herrity