Marie Varley is an Irish artist running a small screenprinting business, creating prints that explore national identity and how this has been celebrated in the past particularly through the form of ephemera such as postage stamps and matchboxes. We interviewed Marie to find out more about her education, love for print and her recent move from Edinburgh to Dublin.
When did your interest in visual arts begin?
That’s a difficult one to pinpoint but for as long as I can remember I have always been completely obsessed with colour and the tactility of paint. As a child, most visits to friends’ houses involved pulling out the poster paints and brushes! In secondary school I first discovered modern artists such as Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock whose work and concepts really resonated with me and the decision to go to art college was firmly made.
Why did you decide to focus on screenprinting in particular?
Throughout the four years I spent developing my practice at LSAD, my work always dealt with found imagery and in particular imagery which represented national identity. In one way or another these themes always entered my work and in my final year I began looking at postage stamps, disassembling the imagery and what the intended meanings were for the individual countries. My degree is in Fine Art Painting however as the imagery in postage stamps was originally printed I wanted to stay true to my source material by utilizing a printmaking technique. Having briefly dipped my feet in the screen printing process during a module in my second year, I was familiar with the properties of screen printing and loved the flatness of print in contrast with the oiliness of paint. I had about 6 months to master the art of screen printing and thanks to the amazing – and patient – printmaking technicians at LSAD I managed to screenprint my whole Degree show! My degree show pieces were a mix of several layers of print upon paint. The show consisted of 8 pieces which measured 2 metres x 1 metre and I absolutely loved making them.
Please tell us a little bit more about your interest in national identity and ephemera.
For me it is fascinating to gain an insight into the social context of a country by the imagery used in the 2.5cm x 2cm space of a postage stamp. Countries had varying messages at different times. One stamp in particular, a German DDR stamp from 1981 which depicted a whimsical plug character had quite a powerful message. The stamp reads “Rationelle Energie Anwendung” (translating to Rational Use of Energy) to support the German governments recently introduced energy efficiency policy, at a time in which the country had a serious concern about energy waste. It is difficult to imagine a postage stamp holding this much communicational power these days but in a time before the internet, these ephemera were really quite powerful. Similarly a piece which I created for my Degree show “Kenya” which included a series of reproduced Kenyan stamps from the 1950’s with safari animal illustrations can seem quite stereotypical. With stamp collecting a hobby amongst many and air travel was a luxury, this was a way of visually communicating the identity of a country.
What are your plans for the upcoming months?
I am working towards a solo show so the next few months will be a busy few in the studio. I am hoping to complete a series of prints based on matchboxes from the 1950’s. I have 6 separate images already printed and I am hoping to print at least another 4 or 5 new editions. My prints have recently been stocked on the super online print shop Department Store based in London so that’s quite exciting!
You’ve recently moved to Dublin from Edinburgh. How do you compare the creative ‘scene’ in these two cities?
The creative scene is pretty exciting in Dublin at the moment. In a city only just about recovering from the recession, artists and creatives have set up studios in unused shops and vacant warehouses. The studio where I make my prints for example is a small studio set up by Kim Willoughby in 2011 as the first affordable pay-as-you-go screenprinting studio in Dublin. This allows for a wide range of studio users where fine artists work alongside graphic designers and Illustrators alike.
I absolutely loved the three years I spent in Edinburgh! Surrounded by hugely talented and professional artists at Edinburgh Printmakers where I was a member was hugely beneficial for me. I learned invaluable tricks of the trade and I learnt a lot about artist and gallery relationships. The Edinburgh creative scene has a real community spirit which I thought was unique. Just before I moved to Dublin last year I attended the Hidden Door arts festival, a non profit, volunteer run arts festival which took place in an abandoned spaces on King Stable’s Road. Not long before that I took part in a Creative Pop-Up market in nightclubs which were empty during the day. There is a real ‘anything is possible’ attitude in the Edinburgh Creative scene.