Cork Street in Dublin was named after the Earl of Cork, Richard Boyle. A man that used to live in Cork House which is now the location of City Hall, that’s why there is a tiny bit of street named Cork Hill. During the 17th century the area were Cork Street is located used to be teeming with weavers, you can still see the legacy of that time with certain street names.
Now it is a busy road with a mixture of characterless modern buildings wedged beside more interesting older structures that have carelessly been left to crumble over time. The façade of the street seems morose and in slumber but inside a select few addresses the creativity and industriousness of it’s pioneers is still in action.
Artist James Earley’s studio is located behind a gated carriage arch. Once through, there is an area of scrub that has been neglected but at the same time it is a wonderful treat to experience a more hidden side of the city. At that angle you can enjoy being encircled by history.
Earley beams with genuine happiness. He strikes an impressive figure, stylish but self conscious. He is incredibly welcoming and has a natural sincerity that is akin to a child. He laughingly admits that he also has a huge sweet tooth as he fixes himself a cup of tea and settles into his small studio past his huge collection of spray paint cans. He is an established graffiti artist as well as a curator and graphic designer but more about that later.
His lineage is steeped in art, his family used to run Earley Studios on Camden Street for over one hundred years. It closed in the 1970’s because the Vatican pulled back on spending for overly decorative work in churches such as marble work or stained glass. ‘When Earley Studios closed, my granddad was one of the directors and he took a break for a few years. My Grandma got her art into the Royal Hibernan Academy and that spurred him on. They used to live in Rathfarnham and they had two studios in the house where they would work separately. They’d have their breakfast together and then meet up again at lunch time. They’d work throughout the day and then relax together in the evening.’
His father is a retired plastic surgeon who is also, ‘an excellent artist with a focus on oil and chalk pastel work.’ When asked if his young daughter Ruby will keep the tradition going he smiles broadly and says, ‘I’ve put a pencil in her hand and she started scribbling away! It looked great! I am going to try and work some of her scribbles into some walls later on this year. I’m pretty excited about it!’ He cheekily adds, ‘she can do whatever she wants, as long as it’s art! My wife Sarah, and her family are all involved in theatre. Some of them are in graphic design and music. There’s just heaps of creativity there. It’ll be interesting if she ends up being a stockbroker!’
Graphic Design & Graffiti
Early started his artistic studies in The National College of Art & Design, after several months he found himself drawn to graphic design. It is a discipline that he is obsessed with, ‘there’s so many different facets to graphic design. I won’t go into it because you’d need a whole other interview!’
It’s the systematic approach that tapped a nerve for him as it complimented and enriched his new found zeal for graffiti. It’s an interesting marriage because graphic design is orderly as is great graffiti but at the same time graffiti, ‘is anarchistic.’
It was when he was a teenager on his train journeys to school that graffiti entered his realm of consciousness. ‘I wanted to know more. I knew there was an element of excitement because obviously it’s done at night. Then loads of questions swirled in my head. Where do you get the tools to make this happen? How do you manage to paint that large? Do they use household paint to fill it in? Just the usual questions when you found out about a new medium.’
When Earley was a teenager the internet was still not a ubiquitous tool, so he applied some detective work to seek the sub-culture out. He started by looking for the shop that sold the spray cans. ‘It was a tiny shop and a guy called Shaggy worked in there. He used to have forty cans of paint and loads of street wear. There were always about ten regulars standing around. It was quite a mixture of testosterone. I was young really shy.’
He soon found the courage to ask them to tell him more about it. As luck would have it one of the artists took him under his wing. ‘He brought me out painting at the Project Arts Centre, this is like ’96, ’97. It actually was a vacant building then. There was a load of hoarding along there so we painted the wall. He was painting this massive piece, and I was painting a piece of turd well away from his wall! It was amateur hour for me but at the same time it was a really exciting experience!’
Once he got his first graphic design job out of college he continued to explore and indulge his love of graffiti. ‘I’m a complete workaholic. To be honest, the last half of the time I was working for the agency I would leave the studio at seven, go home and work on stuff until one or two in the morning. Then get up, go back into work, and just do that constantly. I was double jobbing basically for a year and a half. When I actually came to leave, they were really supportive of me setting up my own thing.’ He can thank his mothers side of the family for the business acumen he possesses, a trait that has allowed him to work successfully on fulfilling projects.
He is keen to add that his training in graphic design has made him a great graffiti artist, ‘my draftsmanship for large walls now is thorough and exact. I take a photo of the walls that I need to work on. If it’s a massive commission, like Bloom’s Hotel, I will ask for the plans for the building . Then I work up the whole entire design on the computer in Adobe illustrator and then get it signed off.’
Bridges on Bottles
‘In recent years now, I’ve made a conscious decision to try to work within painting large scale works, that is painting commissions with brands.’ The most recent brand that he has worked on is Jameson whiskey. ‘They got in contact with me and said we’ve approached a couple of different artists for this project, would you come up with some visual concept for us. The brief was to work up a design that’s going to be released around St. Patrick’s day that references Dublin and what Dublin means to me. It was a tricky brief.’ It was made easier by the fact that Jameson gave him free roam, ‘they weren’t controlling, it was an absolute breeze.’
What he came up with was an ode to his Dublin heritage. ‘It’s the connections that people have with each other that are what make Dublin what it is. I started looking for something that would symbolise this idea of connection, but in the format of architecture and the answer was bridges. It parallels that idea of the connections between people. Also it shows the link from the past up to the present and into the future. When you look at the bridges of Dublin, they basically track our architectural past.’ The resulting design can be seen on their special edition labels. He pays homage to his stain-glassed lineage too with the visuals. In the video below he explains in more detail the rationale behind the design.
He is genuinely delighted for what he has produced, it is his salute to the city he loves. It has to be said that it also seems a fun coincidence that he has stumbled onto historical and present links to County Cork, Jameson is distilled in Cork.
‘Iverna is Latin in origin, it means for Ireland,’ says Earley as he takes a sip of his tea. It also is the name of a project that he launched before Christmas last year. It’s a website the showcases and sells work of Irish artists, ‘there’s street artists, there’s photography, there’s illustration, there’s graphic design, there’s fine art painting, fine art print all within the medium of print and typography.’ He is a man that fizzes with appreciate for people that share his love of the arts, ‘it’s a joy to work on, I’m collaborating with artists I hold in such high regard.’
Sometimes art can be intimidating to people that don’t have the background in it that Earley has. It’s a trade that is hosted in galleries and spaces that a lot of the people would not seek out. Earley’s art is exactly like his personality, approachable, fun, thoughtful and warm. It’s not a form of exhibitionism for him to gravitate towards graffiti or re-designing Jameson bottles, or in other words creating free public art. He simply is consumed with the love and positivity that it gives him that it just spills over for others to be entertained by which is a wonderful gift for all.
You can check out James’ on Iverna here.
Ahead of their St. Patrick’s Day 2016 celebrations, Jameson has unveiled an exclusive limited edition bottle created by Dublin street artist, James Earley. Available in Ireland RRP €29.95 + globally.