Photographer Austin Irving makes work about being uncomfortable. Although her imagery is primarily architectural in content, its true subject in many ways is the body. Her notable photographic series about bizarre, surreal, unintentionally funny and Kafkaesque quirks of public spaces offers dead end hallways, illusionistic geometry, and an empathetic embrace of color — all of which draws the eye deep into the picture, only to be thwarted in its progress through the space. Other series depicting fantastically retrofitted caverns made over into spectacles, and of plant life set to root in isolated building and landscape settings, each in their way describe levels of discomfort from the physical to the psychological, cultural, and emotional. Irving’s work can currently be seen in group exhibitions at the Studio Channel Islands and Irvine Fine Art Center galleries.
L.A. WEEKLY: What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
AUSTIN IRVING: My work is an investigation of the environments we inhabit. This quote by the influential architect and illustrator, Hugh Ferriss from his book The Metropolis of Tomorrow published in 1929, is precisely what I explore in my practice: “The character of the architectural forms and spaces which all people habitually encounter are powerful agencies in determining the nature of their thoughts, their emotions and their actions, however unconscious of this they may be.”
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I did indeed go to art school. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to pursue photography and had no doubt in my mind that I was going to get a BFA for my undergraduate degree. My education at NYU was extremely valuable and I am forever grateful that I was able to study with so many wonderful professors. Their passion, attention to detail, and encouragement were incredible gifts that have impacted my practice in a very major way.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
Los Angeles is a place that brings me tremendous amounts of joy. Not only is it a beautiful and calm place to live and have a studio, but I am constantly inspired to make new work in this city.
When was your first show?
My first real show in a gallery was in the summer of 2007 (the year after I graduated from NYU) at The SoHo Photo Gallery in Tribeca, NY. My work was selected to be a part of their 12th Annual Juried National Photo Competition.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show?
I have work in two shows at the moment. An image from my BOAT GHOSTS series was selected by L.A. Times art writer Leah Ollman to be a part of a juried group show at Studio Channel Islands in Camarillo, CA entitled The Next Big Thing, which will be on view until September 21. I also currently have ten pieces from my NOT AN EXIT and CORNERED series included in a three-person show at The Irvine Fine Arts Center entitled A Curious Horizon that opened on July 31.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show with?
Wouldn’t it be incredible to show with Magritte!? His work, and the Surrealist movement, have left a lasting impression on my practice and, frankly, on my general perception of the world.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?
Yes — music is essential. When I am in the studio I love to listen to electronic music by artists such as Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, The Field, Com Truise, Tycho and oh so many others. I very much enjoy long, ambient tracks — the longer and more drawn out the better!
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