Robert Irwin artist talk

This week has been filled with fashion week and design week pop-ups, exhibitions and parties. However the most inspiring event for me so far has been attending Robert Irwin's artist talk at White Cube Gallery.

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By Ela Boyd
Posted 25. 09. 2015
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This week has been filled with fashion week and design week pop-ups, exhibitions and parties. However the most inspiring event for me so far has been attending Robert Irwin‘s artist talk at White Cube Gallery. His long running career includes painting, sculpture, architecture and landscape design. He also taught many famous artists such as Chris Burden, Larry Bell and Ed Ruscha. He’s most famous for starting the ‘Light & Space’ movement along with his contemporary James Turrell. An initiative to match artists with scientists, mathematicians, technicians, and engineers from major corporations called Experiments in Art and Technology Project (E.A.T.) in 1971 brought the pair together along with an experimental psychologist from Garrett Aerospace. During this time they would go to anechoic chambers (void of light and sound) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and afterwards would notice their heightened experience of sensory phenomena.

He is highly influenced by phenomenology and working in a reductive way to create pure form, pure light phenomena, etc. He quoted Husserl and highlighted the way we are often ‘trapped by our views’. He wrote a great book on his Phenomenological theories called, Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees.

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Photo credit: Ela Boyd

His new work featured next to artist Cerith Wyn Evans’ light sculptures at the White Cube Bermondsey (below) seems to reference his landscape design project for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art showcases several types of exotic Palm Trees. He discussed his challenges approaching landscape design as an artist while on the Getty Museum landscape design alongside architect, Richard Meier’s team of very practical engineers and financial planners.

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Photo credit: Ela Boyd

I once had a studio visit with Robert Irwin while he was working on the project below. He would put various coloured gels over the lights to see the effects certain colour combinations had on the overall light composition (some would appear to ‘vibrate’). He mentioned this work during his talk and how it was such a joy to play with so many beautiful luminous colours everyday.

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Photograph from MCASD

In his work 1° 2° 3° 4° (below), he cut square apertures in the windows at the Museum of Contemporary art San Diego. I saw it in person and it creates a strange optical illusion. Additionally, the sensual element of unexpected fresh ocean air and sound heightens the overall duality of looking and experiencing.

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Photograph from MCASD

He said this work, Light and Space, is one he’s most proud of. The eye focuses on the forms and then on the halos creating a vibrating field of light.


Photograph from MCASD

More than working with lights, he prefers to capture natural light. He loves the colours present in the California light. While in my Masters degree program at University of California, San Diego, I saw the project Two Running Violet V Forms (below), change quite a bit overtime. The perforated metal would appear transparent or opaque depending on the light. The shadows would create a composition on the surface and the colour would transform into a violet blue gradient. In this work I saw his far reaching vision to call our attention to beautiful constantly changing phenomena such as the light and colour that surround us often going unnoticed.

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Photograph from Stuart Collection

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