American painter and sculptor. He studied at the Otis Art Institute (1948–50) and at the new and progressive Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles (1952–4), where he adopted an Abstract Expressionist painting style. Through his association with the Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles (1959–66), he came into contact with such artists as Ed Moses (b 1926) and Billy Al Bengston (b 1934). Irwin disdained his early paintings for their lack of ‘potency’. In the early 1960s he began a continuous series of experiments. He broke with figuration, searching like Minimalist artists for a way to make the work of art autonomous in content, that is representing nothing but itself, as in the Disc series that he began in 1966 (exh. 1968, Pasadena, CA, Norton Simon Mus. A.). Designed to exacting dimensions, colour tones and lighting criteria, the Discs appeared suspended, free from the wall and comprising an uncertain mass that dematerialized into its environment.
Irwin wanted the viewer to enter into the work of art, and this led to his installations, the earliest of which date from 1968. He would heighten and alter one’s perception of a space using lighting, nylon scrim sheets, which contain and separate the light, and other illusions, for example in Scrim Veil–Black Rectangle–Natural Light (1977; New York, Whitney). He coined three terms that defined the relation of his work to its setting: site-adjusted, site-determined and site-dominant. His outdoor works directed the viewers’ perceptual experience of the loci, making them confront the conditions and qualities of the site. In 9 Spaces, 9 Trees (1980; Seattle, WA, Public Safety Building Plaza), a dismal urban space is enhanced through complement and contrast, while Filigreed Line (1979; Wellesley Coll., MA, Mus.) brings one repeatedly back to the qualities of the lush natural environment.
Kristina Van Kirk
From Grove Art Online
© 2009 Oxford University Press