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Light Drawings- Robert Irwin

Back To School week is always hectic but it’s a blessing in disguise 🙂 But I just need to cleanse my eyes from all the school supplies and slow down the pulse a little…Do you feel it too?

A little Robert Irwin always has this magic power. With almost every single of his artworks. As he lives in San Diego, I am very lucky to see a lot of his works but I was intrigued to hear that he had an exhibition called Drawings at Quint Gallery because Irwin stopped painting in 1970!

Robert Irwin is associated with the Light and Space movement which originated in Los Angeles in the 1960’s. Also termed California Minimalism, it’s all about that special quality of light we have in California and for which I am thankful for everyday.

And that’s where Irwin’s Drawings are, once more, so clever!

Robert Irwin, Drawings 2017, Quint Gallery

They are wall mounted fluorescent light tubes and light fixtures, very industrial looking materials which you usually expect to encounter at Home Depot rather than in an art gallery.

Dan Flavin, Untitled (To Charles Cowles), 1963, currently at The Underground Museum (part of MOCA collection)

Dan Flavin started using them in the 1960’s to make light sculptures but here Irwin is on to something else.

By applying gels in various colors and textures, Irwin gave a little cosmetic makeover to the tubes.

Detail from Robert Irwin, Sweet Sweet, 2017, Quint Gallery

Detail from Robert Irwin, Cumulus, 2017, Quint Gallery

Some are very matte allowing no reflections. Some are pearly or glossy and you can almost catch your shadow as you physically and thoughtfully reflect.

Robert Irwin, Past Due, 2017, Quint Gallery

Colors vary but are kept mostly cool. A lot of gray, green and blue: a way to bring the sky to the walls? Then I started looking more closely and noticed the use of lines.

Detail from Robert Irwin, Past Due, 2017, Quint Gallery

Of course, remember, these are Drawings. A single line, sometimes two, are incised in the colored gels, running from top to bottom.

Detail from Robert Irwin, Past Due, 2017, Quint Gallery

And here it is, instead of making light interact through his work to enhance our perceptions and get us to feel what we failed to look at before, Robert Irwin is actually “drawing” on and with light tubes. Or is he even “etching” with a very industrial material? (more on etching here).

Side view of Robert Irwin, Past Due, 2017, Quint Gallery

Through a process of adding and removing these gels applied on fluorescent tubes, Irwin achieves shadows and tonal contrasts made visible as you look frontally but also as you move in front of Drawings.

The varying spaces between the mounted tubes open and close as light, colors and lines ripple through these giant bar codes in soft and ever so calming colors!

As I mentioned etching, where is the final printing stage though? The way I look at it, Robert Irwin makes it about what happens on the retina of our eyes. That’s where the colors, lines and shadows shift. That’s where the missing light resolves and operates their magic…

Because, did you notice the final catch? No light!

Robert Irwin, Stella Dallas, 2017, Quint Gallery

Robert Irwin, Sweet Sweet, 2017, Quint Gallery

These fluorescent tubes are not switched on! They are sketches to future paintings made out of fluorescent light tubes. When they will get turned on! But as I said, I think we switch our own light with our eyes. At least, that’s what Robert Irwin channels for me through his installations.

With his Drawings, Irwin may have realised his goal of 45 years ago when he gave up painting: “What I really wanted to do was to make a painting without a ‘mark’ at all”.

Which allows me to link up with Robert Irwin’s larger goal of fighting “habituation”. Habituation is what happens when you brush past known quantities taken for granted. Your eyes don’t register them anymore. No mark at all. Habituation kills what Irwin calls “aesthetic awareness”.

Robert Irwin, 1°2°3°4°, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

It can be a stunning view like in 1º2º3º4º or the sight and smells of a eucalyptus forest on a university campus as in Two Running Violet V Forms

Robert Irwin, Two Running Violet V Forms, UCSD Campus

I have written about these two installations before (the links will take you back to previous blog posts). At least 1º2º3º4º could be termed “a painting without a ‘mark’ at all”.

To that effect, Robert Irwin’s art is all about sharpening your gaze to make you look in earnest. Piquing your interest with clever highlights on the edges in between, you get to pay attention. You get to focus until you become engaged.

You no longer just see. You are actively looking. Even though I know it’s hard sometimes when life is so busy, give it a try. Or tell me the technique you use to reset: the Comment Box is yours!

Drawings is an exhibition at Quint Gallery in San Diego until September 16, 2017.

© 2017 Ingrid Westlake

All pictures by Ingrid Westlake, unless otherwise stated.

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