Talent Archie Irvine
Photography Alfie Fisher
Special Thanks Ed Larson
ONLYCHILD Magazine speaks with Archie Irvine as he delves into his artistic limitations, the power of gestures, and his transition from painter to sculptor.
An in-depth conversation with Archie Irvine immediately forces one to reckon with seemingly surreal semiotics, the value we commonly place behind objects, and the structures surrounding our daily lives that we have come to take as intrinsic. However, Irvine does not believe in taking these misguided conceptions for granted. Although early in its conception, an ideology in its embryonic state, Irvine is coming to terms with bastardising these notions. Actively restructuring brutal objects and their surroundings, he creates a separate function away from their original purpose. Creations that radically question the essence of objects, that have the ability to force the viewer into reflecting on the various levels of meaning given. It is not a predetermined script, rather art that allows the viewers to struggle and find a linguistic interpretation. Through deliberate artistic gestures, we are left with a feeling of the uncanny. The art may be nascent, but Irvine is certainly aware of the fundamental questions his art looks to provoke and the channels of inspiration that will allow him to concretely bring these ideological reflections to life.
TM: What first sparked your interest in art?
AI: My interests in art came from growing up around a parent who was always painting. My dad’s an artist and art teacher so he would take me to see exhibitions at a young age. Then, seemingly being the only person interested in art at school was quite strange. I quite enjoyed that sense of singularity. It’s strange – it’s not a normal thing to make art, but when you grow up around someone who’s always making art, it becomes very natural. In a very privileged way, it has always felt very natural to me to be able to do something seemingly pointless. The more art I saw, the more I got into it – not even from making it, but from looking at it and going to exhibitions. Going to exhibitions is sort of like going to church.
TM: Quite meditative in that respect. Do you get inspiration from other artists and exhibitions?
AI: Yes definitely. I’m looking at a lot of Renaissance paintings and artists who were working just before the invention of oil paints. The struggle of artists who were desperately trying to create the illusion of three-point perspective but couldn’t quite do it. There’s something super charming where the artist and materials are failing. It is quite a pure form of expression, where you see materials fail.
TM: You’re transitioning from painter to sculptor. What instigated this change?
AI: When I think about painting and sculpting, they have two different dimensions. Painting has a single dimension, in the sense that it’s just applying paint to a 2D surface, which is how I was painting. I was making very gestural paintings and wanted to think about what a gesture could be. Rather than making an energetic mark on a canvas, an effective placement of two objects next to each other could become another way of making a gesture. Also, with sculpture, you have to plan certain things. You have to think about where the objects have come from and what the signifiers and the signified are of the objects. There are many different angles to sculpture, which to me, is more interesting. In terms of my artistic philosophy, that's a better way of making art.
TM: What would encapsulate that for you, in terms of your artistic philosophy?
AI: It’s very complicated, and I’m working that out. I think it has to do with the hierarchies of things and ideas, about how we are expected to be nowadays, in terms of advertising. I went to a pub the other day that was only selling two kinds of beer. Whereas, usually there’s a hundred options. So, I’m interested in this contemporary moment where products have been spliced into many different products. I’m interested in technological precision and efficiency and want to propose other ways of being, in that sense.
TM: Could you explain this idea in relation to one of your pieces?
AI: That spinal feature (in reference to a work-in-progress Irvine had shown me earlier) was hostile architecture for birds. Through the gesture of bending, when you remove their purpose, they become something else.
I feel interested in the possibility of things becoming something else, rather than having a defined identity. I’m interested in circularity and associational ways of thinking, as opposed to efficiency and pre-defined purpose.
TM: That would be opposing to the way we currently see everything.
AI: It just seems like this contemporary theory of the sublime, in the sense that there’s this overload of information. But also, how information or things nowadays seem to be highlighted. Highlighted on a page, and then suddenly, everything that isn’t highlighted is destroyed. Or with memes on Instagram, how mutable they are because it’s like, “who made these memes?” There is no accountability. I’ve also been thinking about drones, these antagonistic machines which have no accountability. There’s no one in the device. The person controlling the device is a hundred miles away in an office on a computer. In that sense, everything is floating.
TM: So, detached from any humanity?
AI: Yes, but mainly detached from accountability.
TM: Does art have to be accountable? The artwork in relationship with the artist?
AI: Yes, of course. I guess my response to all of this is, I have a real belief in haptics and touch; using my hands. In processes that involve chance and contingency. Being present with materials and thinking through materials and about the agendas of materials.
TM: What would be your process for starting a new piece? Can you walk me through that?
AI: It often starts outside of the studio, just making casual observations, whether it be riding my bike to art school or being in a café. I was thinking about how architectural bodies breathe. Riding my bike the way I do in London – the horizon line can either be far away or close. How the buildings get tall and small, and the streets get thinner or wider. The city as an organism. This casual observation came from just riding my bike. I bring in swathes of information by taking photographs and collecting objects. Then, in a meandering and neurotic way, I’ll make lots of drawings and wait for something to reveal itself. I was reading where a playwright was talking about, ‘the formless hunch’. Say when you have a hunch, you’re going to the pub and you have a feeling the pub is over there. A formless hunch would be, ‘I have a feeling something is over there, but I don’t know what it is.’ That is pertinent in the way I work; I try and figure it out through making.
TM: So, the process itself determines what will be created? If you continue to process information and dissect it all whilst being proactive, the idea will show itself to you? There’s no concrete formula other than that of proactive freedom?
AI: Yes, it’s figuring things out through the negative, which means deciding what you don’t want to do, and through a process of deduction, you come to something. It’s a stripping back of things.
TM: Do you see sculpture, then, as simpler than the style of painting you did before? How do you compare the boundaries and simplicity of sculpture and painting as artistic mediums?
AI: Within the extreme limitations of painting, there is an atomic and cosmic scale to making them. At a Cezanne exhibition, I saw, in the simplicity of constructive and vertical brush strokes, that something extremely complex was happening on the surface of the paintings. I guess, in the sculptures and installations I’m making at the moment, there’s actually more information. Sometimes less is more. As a sculptor, I’m thinking about the materials, and I think information is definitely a material. I’m interested in how I can bring swathes of information. The real concern is how I can hold that information together.
TM: Where do you get the materials you use, physically away from informational material?
AI: I’m interested in materials used in infrastructure; as within infrastructure, so much ideology is embedded. I’m also interested in mundane materials, like a branch, glass, screens, and sand. Materials that are used to divide space, or border space that have an immateriality to them. For instance, with glass – if you go to Canary Wharf, you see these huge sheets of glass and how they separate public and private space. You can see into the building, yet cannot go into it. That has a more powerful way of dividing space, rather than brick. Usually the interior and exterior are never in conversation with each other. Yet, when there is a transparent membrane, you can see the proximity or juxtapositions of two worlds next to each other. It does create a powerful effect.
I want to use corporate or hostile materials and completely hack them, in the sense that I employ them in work but deploy them in a playful way.
TM: In that respect, re-appropriating them?
AI: Yes, bastardise them. Undermine them. It is a good way to speak to alternate ideas.
TM: So, your art is a way of imagining alternative to contemporary society in a physical format?
AI: Yes, using their language. I’m trying to use the languages of cyberspace and computers. Problematic languages of contemporary society yet derail them in the way I use the materials.
TM: How does the playful aspect of your art translate to the viewer?
AI: I think playing is an action, and I believe in communicating through gestures as opposed to content – being playful with materials. When people look at my work whilst my body isn’t there, you can see the gestures I’ve made. Playfulness is about being eloquent, imaginative and resourceful.
I want the viewer to be able to see the gestures I’ve made in the work. Playfulness is a fertile space to be able to do that.
TM: How do you compare painting as an art form to sculpture? Returning to the limitations of materials, how does sculpture exceed that?
AI: Painting has been venerated, put on a pedestal. It is nice when the material undermines the artist. I think early Renaissance paintings and the failing and breaking down of the illusion speaks to early CGI. The uncanny aesthetic where it nearly looks real but not quite. It also relates to breathing; you’re sucked into the illusion, the illusion is shattered, and you’re pushed out again. I’ve been looking into convex mirrors and perspective, like The Ambassadors painting by Holbein. That painting was my starting point from painting to sculpture because it has two different ways of being. On one hand, you see a three-point perspective when looking at it front on. But because of the skull, the painting activates your body to move around to the side. It’s making you move and that’s very much what sculpture does, because you cannot see it all at once. That painting has a very similar status in that sense. In abstract expressionism, Clement Greenberg talked about the artist dancing within the arena of the canvas. Holbein’s The Ambassadors makes the viewers dance. The painting is activating the viewer, rather than the artist activating the painting. I think that's a nice flipping.
TM: That, for me, links to playfulness because of the physicality of having to dance around it, to understand every perspective.
AI: Yes, for sure, the viewer does play a role. They have to fill in gaps. I present fragments of information, or fragments of form or tone. Yet, it’s not quantifiable in itself – it can only be completed by the viewer.
TM: Does your art need to have a direct message?
AI: I want it to mean a lot to me. I want to be able to really effectively translate that into materiality and some sort of alien object in an architectural space. After that point, if I can achieve all that, I’m not too concerned by telling people what the work is. I’m aiming to create an artwork that can affect someone, but the work does not give them the language to express and explain it themselves because the form doesn’t have the words to map onto it.
TM: So, each person would have to experience the work themselves?
AI: Yes, and you’d have to wait and digest it to allow it to begin to make sense. I think the best art doesn’t give you answers, it is not transactional. Museums are interesting because audiences come and read big blocks of writing, and they leave thinking, I’ve learnt – “this, this and this today”.
I think the best art is the kind where you stand in front of it and it alienates you. Art is violent in that sense. Art is this amazing space where things don’t have to be transactional or functional.
I think that is really important in relation to self-actualisation. My belief in stripping away all operational and efficient things that exist in language, stripping that back to just tone. Because you cannot do anything with tone, it just makes you feel something. With information – you can use it, spin it, and manipulate it.
With no exhibitions in the immediate future, Irvine is able to continue his search for elaborate expressions and physically reimagining the power of objects. Our collective perceptions of the signifier and signified. Drastically changing these notions and in-doing-so, radically changing our shared understanding. Enhanced through the location of these sculptures and the direct spaces that they interact with, removed from their native origins into a space that makes us question their function. Enabling a diverse and interactive experience. Be sure to keep an eye out for the art that is to come, for once you have engaged with the gestural ideology of Irvine’s art, will you begin to transform your preconceived ideas. Buildings will begin to breathe and the spaces you previously existed within will be reborn with a vast array of possibilities.
Connect with Archie Irvine here: Instagram