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On Grattan Bridge, a crowd had congregated around a wooden stall fixed to an electric bicycle.
Named the Ecliptic Newsstand, the stall was a relaunch of the Ecliptic Newsletter, a monthly alternative cultural guide to the city.
It was 23March, or the “Cultural Equinox”, a title chosen by the newsletter’s team because this was the median date between two Culture Nights, and thus “Ireland’s furthest point from culture”.
Performing for the occasion was the band Acid Granny.
They huddled out of the drizzly rain under a large tarpaulin, fiddling away at the toy instruments and keyboards packed into their trademark shopping trolley.
Zines were on sale at the front of the stall. Stood behind it was painter and vocalist for Acid Granny, Louise Butler.
She was selling band merchandise: badges of Queen Elizabeth and light blue t-shirts, created by herself, depicting a smiling grandmother gesturing towards the trolley like a quiz-show presenter.
Butler, known otherwise as Taoiseach Shame, had contributed the cover artwork to one of the newsletter’s earlier editions.
It was a screenprint of a similar scene. On a purple O’Connell Bridge, pink and white silhouettes were hunched over a shopping cart, while others danced before them.
It was almost 8pm, and Butler had arrived late, coming straight from her studio in the Phibsboro Shopping Centre.
One of the artists evicted from Richmond Road Studios last June, the painter and performer said their current, temporary residence remains precarious.
“Nothing is safe, that’s the big take from this,” she said at the night on wheels. “Not until we have purpose-built spaces.”
The Richmond Road Studios currently occupies the second floor of the Phibsboro Shopping Centre, a 3km walk away from Richmond Road itself.
One day after the Ecliptic event on Grattan Bridge, Butler was back upstairs in the studios.
Tacked to the front door was a printed version of the original metal sign from outside her former studio space.
Butler is acting as co-manager of the studio at present, she says. “We’ve a two-year licence, but it’s not a tenancy.”
Wooden partitions had been erected for each of the artists. Pale pink and blue posters decorated the walls, saying “We’ve Come A Long, Long Way Together”, alongside the names of the studio’s 17 artists.
She enters into her own space, which is in a separate office.
It contains a potted plant and a sewing machine. And several canvases at various stages, vividly coloured, facial expressions comically exaggerated, and flirting with the fine line between humour and horror.
She reimagines President Michael D. Higgins as a fish in one small, square canvas.
In another, set against the backdrop of a beautiful floral, wooded area, two monstrous looking farmers perform an indecent act on a dead chicken, beneath the words “I am the chicken”.
A third shows a crowd of characters, including a scarecrow, cat, vulture and Teletubby standing in an urban wasteland, engulfed in flames. Above the head of a masked, superhero-like figure is the title, “If only we had more influencers.”
If her work is political, she likes to be opaque in its meaning, Butler says. “I don’t want to outright say this is political. If you time something too current, it’s going to go out of date.”
Hidden away among a stack of completed works is her most pointed political piece, a portrait of Richard Shakespeare, Dublin City Council’s assistant chief executive.
It was inspired by Shakespeare’s dismissive response to the studio’s request for support from the council. “The belief that the City Council is the panacea to your problem is nothing short of astounding,” he wrote in an email to the studio’s management.
Distinctly more nuanced the more overt her target is, the portrait is simply one of him, staring sternly into the distance. His skin is composed of pink and grey blotches. Surrounding him is a faint red love heart.
The portrait is important because it is deeply rooted in a local context, and looks to make the subject accessible without trying to be easily palatable, says DJ and producer Robbie Kitt.
“Doing a portrait of Richard Shakespeare is such a funny way to critique the banal bureaucracy at the heart of the council that is crushing the cultural potential of the city,” he said.
It was unveiled at a protest outside the council offices on Wood Quay, Butler says. “The councillors tell me he was very flattered.”
A Version of Irishness
From Crumlin, Butler spent her childhood painting, before attending the National College of Art and Design, she says. “I got wrapped up in performing later on.”
In one corner of the room is a large piece depicting a group of six characters, dressed in pink furs and BDSM-inspired black leather outfits.
The imagery came from her first proper foray into the performing arts in 2018, she says. “I randomly decided that I wanted to put on a fashion show, even though I couldn’t really sew before.”
It evolved into a musical called “You’ve Been Shamed”, she says. “It was about this world where you were either a sparklebutt, and lived in the woods not going to work, or you were a dungeonslutt. They are obsessed with gold and very patriarchal.”
As well as writing the drama, Butler performed the music, singing the narration, she says. “As a kind of overlord character.”
Out of “You’ve Been Shamed” emerged the group Acid Granny, whose absurdist lyrics share much in common with her visual style, which plucks an assortment of random tropes of Irish culture, and reassembles them in a more surreal form.
Illustrative of this in a roundabout way is her latest work, a striking reimagination of the murder of American actor Lana Turner’s boyfriend Johnny Stompanato in 1958, she says.
Butler didn’t get the idea from a love of Hollywood, she says. It came from buying copies of the magazine Ireland’s Own for her grandmother.
“It’s one of those Irish-isms,” she says, while pulling a copy out from under her desk. “They have an article on Lana in this, and it was the most misogynistic bullshit piece.”
As she pours over the article in question, she says, “the writer just talks about Lana as if she’s a piece of dirt”.
In a preliminary sketch of the scene, Butler daubed in black paint the message: “correcting Ireland’s Own’s misogynistic tripe”.
Butler’s output is energetic and startling, says painter and manager of Richmond Road Studios Maeve Brennan. “It has all of these colours and risks, and there is a theatricality to her work, which comes through in the Acid Granny stuff too.”
Though Butler’s work has appeared on display outside the Civic Offices, on mugs, and as cover art for Acid Granny’s recorded output, she has yet to formally exhibit.
“The protest outside the council was probably my biggest exhibit to date,” she says.
As part of the upcoming Phizzfest in Phibsboro between 12 and 14 May, however, she and the 16 other Richmond Road Studios artists will be showing their works, she says.
After that point, she says, the future is uncertain. She and her fellow studio members remain on a licence agreement in the shopping centre.
But, on 1 March, a planning application was submitted by developer Malkey Limited, seeking permission to develop around the former site of Richmond Road Studios.
Included in the proposed commercial and residential development is a mixed-use development, including artist studios.
The news is hopeful, she says with a nervous laugh, even if the waiting period between the application and a potential move-in date is bogged down by no less precarity than she has become accustomed to in the last year.
“Until we have spaces with long leases, no studios are safe,” she says.
Like one of her works, which captures the absurdity of modern Ireland, she says the whole scenario remains bafflingly contradictory.
“We’ve all been giving out about developers here, but without the council stepping in, the developers also have to save the day,” she says.