Meet the new woman at the helm of Cork Printmakers

COLETTE SHERIDAN catches up with Aideen Quirke to chat about the city’s talented artistic community, her goals for the new role, and her love of her adopted home, Cork
Meet the new woman at the helm of Cork Printmakers
Aideen Quirke , Director of the Cork Printmakers on Wandesford Quay, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

THE newly-appointed director of Cork Printmakers, Aideen Quirke, really wants to engage young people in printmaking. It’s an art medium that is, she says, “very democratic.”

For this 34-year-old curator, originally from Thurles, printmaking is accessible and should be opened up to children.

“From my many years’ experience as an arts facilitator, I have identified that by the age of nine, many children begin to doubt their abilities and belief in their potential. Phrases like ‘I’m no good at drawing’, ‘I’m not able to paint’, and ‘I’m not very good at art’ are learned beliefs that children sometimes pick up from adults — and are not true.”

Aideen, who has a degree in fine art from the Crawford College of Art and Design as well as a Masters Degree in museum studies from UCC, says she welcomes “any opportunity to smash these beliefs and help children open their minds to the idea that art is for everyone, irrespective of experience, ability or resources.”

To encourage young people to take up printmaking, Aideen wants to expand the youth programme at Cork Printmakers and work with experienced artists and inspiring practitioners to go out to schools and other venues.

Aideen, who is taking over from former Cork Printmakers’ director Miguel Amado (who has been appointed as the director of the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh), is interested in establishing a young printmakers’ collective.

Looking at ideas around climate change action, access to further education, fighting racism and other forms of discrimination, as well as focusing on youth mental health, Aideen says: “We will look at how printmaking techniques throughout history have battled social issues and driven political change on a global level.

Maeve Lynch, Gallery and Outreach Manager, Emma O’Hara, Studio Manager and Aideen Quirke , Director of the Cork Printmakers on Wandesford Quay, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
Maeve Lynch, Gallery and Outreach Manager, Emma O’Hara, Studio Manager and Aideen Quirke , Director of the Cork Printmakers on Wandesford Quay, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

“From the letterpress used for the Proclamation of Irish Independence and the artists among the signatories of that document, to the revolutionary posters of the 1960s and the climate strike marches of today, printmaking is the tool of communication to get powerful messages across in a creative and striking way.”

Aideen, whose own art practice includes painting contemporary landscapes, says that after her studies at the Crawford, she was “very lucky to get employment in art galleries”.

She adds: “It’s the exhibition-making and administration at art galleries that I find really exciting. So I went down that path rather than the art-making path.”

While she would have liked a career as an artist, Aideen says it wasn’t really viable.

“I graduated in 2010 during the recession. Loads of my friends left the country. There weren’t any jobs in the arts and not many opportunities for exhibiting.”

Aideen worked as a gallery facilitator at Lismore Castle Arts in Waterford followed by a couple of years as a gallery assistant at the Sirius Arts Centre. In 2013, she got work as a venue attendant at the Venice Biennale “which is like the Olympics of the art world”.

Her job involved mediating to the public the photographic art work of Richard Mosse, with whom she had worked at the Sirius Arts Centre.

The Venice role “was mind-blowing”, says Aideen, adding: “When I came back from there, I got at job at the Glucksman Gallery at UCC. I was a gallery assistant working mostly on the education programme, which is amazing.

“The Glucksman staff work with people from all kinds backgrounds such as young people in direct provision. My time there involved working on how I mediate exhibitions to the public. You could be talking about something that’s really conceptually ambitious and difficult to understand. I could be talking about it to young people whose first language isn’t English and talking to people uninitiated in art.

“I got to distill difficult ideas so that they could be explained to a five-year-old. It helped me to explain and explore conceptual art.

“I worked closely with the wonderful curator of education there, Tadhg Crowley, and the director of the Glucksman, Fiona Kearney, a mentor of mine.”

It was while working at the Glucksman that Aideen did her Masters degree. She then worked for Sample Studios, the art collective formerly based at the old FÁS building on Sullivan’s Quay.

Aideen Quirke , Director of the Cork Printmakers on Wandesford Quay, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan
Aideen Quirke , Director of the Cork Printmakers on Wandesford Quay, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

“My job there was to relocate the studios (where a commercial development is being built). I spent two years looking for a venue, trying to get support from the local authority and local businesses. I was advocating for the importance of work spaces in Cork city.”

Eventually, Aideen and colleagues found a venue in Churchfield which had been a FÁS training centre. About 40 artists work there in studios.

The lack of decent spaces for artists is something that Aideen feels strongly about.

“To retain creative practitioners in the city, you have to have space. It ties into all the different issues which are mostly down to the housing crisis. There aren’t enough places for people to live in, let alone work.”

Aideen points out that Cork, which was designated as European Capital of Culture in 2005, should live up to that title by providing places for artists to make art.

Cork Printmakers is located in Wandesford Quay in the same building as the Backwater Artists. The Lavit Gallery is part of this complex.

“It’s a really important place in the city, a specific art-making niche.”

There should be more creative hubs like this, says Aideen: “There are so many vacant spaces in the city that shouldn’t just be used for culture but for all sorts of civic uses. Walking down Patrick Street and Oliver Plunkett Street, it is a crying shame to see so many empty spaces.

“I’d like to advocate for guaranteed reduction or a waiver of rates for creative and cultural entrepreneurs. Not just for artists’ studios and galleries but creative enterprises that will keep designers in the city and will make the city a go-to-place.”

Aideen has also worked in the Visual Centre for Contemporary Art in Carlow as the galleries co-ordinator. She describes it as “an amazing space with probably the most amazing gallery in Ireland”.

After that, Aideen got a job as the assistant curator at the Douglas Hyde Gallery at Trinity College Dublin.

“It was a brilliant job. I hadn’t intended to go to Dublin but I liked it — although it isn’t Cork! Being in Trinity was inspiring, not just from the arts aspect with a ready audience, but also the history and legacy of the place.”

Among the various art events that Aideen worked on at the Douglas Hyde was the setting up of a radio studio with a proper radio licence.

“The art project was the conversations that took place on the radio. Ideas to do with access to education were explored by uncensored contributors called ‘free thinkers.

“There were people from marginalised communities, mostly young people, speaking about their experience of education in Ireland.”

Aideen returned to her adopted city of Cork just before Christmas, 2019. She left Dublin because it was “too expensive” for her to continue living there. Also, her husband-to-be is a Cork man, working as a doctor at the Mercy Hospital.

“I think it’s a really exciting time at Cork Printmakers. Miguel Amado has done a lot of work there, bringing printmaking to different communities. He has also raised its profile internationally.”

Aideen will continue that work and no doubt will add to her personal collection of prints. Collecting prints by the likes of Miriam Cahn, Peadar Lambe and Cathy Tynan, is an accessible way of owning art, says Aideen. Accessibility is her calling card.

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