As the veil of an intensely subdued time in our lives begins to slowly lift, colour, vibrancy, and hope are raising their heads in Dublin city centre. Thomas Street, just a stone’s throw from Christ Church Cathedral in the heart of Dublin’s Liberties, is beginning to buzz again, and a once familiar landmark is looking more vibrant, too.
The instantly recognisable Guinness Storehouse gates, universally known as a symbol of Ireland’s capital city, now bear a dynamic statement. A pixelated layer of letters emblazoned across the gates in blue, pink, yellow, and white read: Stronger Together.
The man responsible is Dublin artist Aches. It’s an honour he doesn’t take lightly. “It’s inspired by the Irish saying, ‘ní neart go cur le chéile’ – there's no strength without unity. I wanted the gates to work as one phrase together, but also separately,” he says.
“It was an amazing opportunity to work on the gates I’ve grown up knowing as a Dub. As soon as I finished, I hopped in the car and headed for Kerry. I remember sitting, looking out onto the ocean with a pint of Guinness in my hand, and just taking the moment in. It was really special.”
Catherine Toolan, Guinness Storehouse managing director, says it was the right time to break with tradition and allow an artist to express themselves on the gates for the very first time.
“We’re in an incredibly historic and important part of our capital city,” Toolan says. “Our gates are universally recognised and loved, and we felt we had a real opportunity, and even responsibility, to use the landmark to send a message of strength and hope to everyone. We’re so proud of it, and it’s been a reminder to stay on track, stay focused – better days are coming.”
The Aches residency is the first iteration of the Canvas D8 series at the Guinness Storehouse. As a long-standing supporter of the arts and creative expression, the Guinness Storehouse proves a striking canvas for Aches to bring his artistic vision to life. The redesigned gates are one of three projects’ Aches has collaborated with Guinness on over the last 18 months. The first of which commenced in March of 2020, just before the pandemic hit. “I worked on four pieces for the renovated Gravity Bar, all of which were inspired by Guinness and the unique creativity of Dublin,” the artist explains.
“Then the gates, and most recently I've worked with them on Canvas D8, which I’m delighted to be a part of.”
Access to Canvas D8, including the full Aches’ art exhibition, is included in the price of a standard ticket. In addition to the artwork, the centerpiece of Canvas D8 is a first-of-its-kind immersive light installation that envelops four floors of the central atrium of the Guinness storehouse.
“The light installation was inspired by Aches’ signature palette and it mirrors the rhythm of the surge and settle of the pint of Guinness,” says Toolan. “This installation will be the first time anything of this scale has been seen in Ireland and is a fitting crescendo for the reopening of Ireland’s number one visitor attraction."
The Storehouse closure was a testing time for the Guinness team and indeed the Liberties' community as a whole, which benefits significantly from the constant stream of tourists each year. It’s something Toolan admits they've had to think hard about.
“We welcome 1.7 million visitors to the Storehouse in a normal year and 93 percent of those visitors are international,” she says. “We had to look inward and decide who we were going to serve when we reopened. It's not enough for us to welcome visitors from abroad, although that's a real honour for us. Now, we want to attract and hold space for domestic visitors, and offer them something different, something inspirational. From the redesigned, double-size new Gravity Bar to our Aches collaborations, these projects really do offer something for everyone."
For Aches, his journey to the gates has been a colourful one. "I loved handwriting when I was growing up, and I would practice all the time. As I got older, I started to notice graffiti, and when I went to secondary school there were a few guys in my class that painted. They had graffiti tags and showed me the ropes. I just got hooked. Now they’ve all given it up, and I'm still painting, they think I'm mad.”
He studied Visual Communications in NCAD before taking a full-time job as a commercial mural painter. "It was hard work," he admits. "I would work six days on the job and then work on my own pieces on my day off. Two years ago I decided to focus on my work full-time and I haven't looked back."
With acclaimed work in Denver, Paris, and London, and pieces such as his Savita Halappanavar portrait in Portobello and Hurler portrait in Cork gaining him local and international admirers, this new project for Guinness secures his reputation as an important member of Ireland's burgeoning street art scene. "I'm optimistic about what's happening here," he says. "Even during lockdown, there were so many Irish street festivals that popped up. It's an exciting time."
The Guinness Storehouse is on the cusp of an exciting time, too. "We are delighted that our doors are open once again so that we can show everyone what we've been working on," says Toolan. "For anyone who thinks the Storehouse isn't for them, I invite you to come and see what we're about. The pandemic has been an incredibly trying time, but we've taken this unique opportunity and created something really beautiful out of it."
Discover the Guinness Storehouse and experience Canvas D8 featuring Aches’ incredible exhibition all of which is included in the price of your entry ticket at guinness-storehouse.com