The surprising Bob Irwin


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Bob Irwin is full of surprises—which should come as no surprise, considering the art he’s made over the past 40-plus years. Plastic disks that seem to dematerialize, dissolving into the wall that supports them. Installations where panels of translucent scrim shift the proportions of a room without calling any attention to the change. A garden (at the Getty) of unfurling sensation: not just light and color but sound and motion, too.

At 81, Irwin is back in the studio, after decades of working as an itinerant sculptor of space. He’s created a new body of work using fluorescent tubes wrapped in colored theatrical gels and is showing them in his first gallery appearance in Southern California in 30 years.


The wall-mounted sculptures, at Quint Contemporary Art in La Jolla, were made with the help of a studio assistant, another first for Irwin. Together, they’ve aligned fluorescent tubes in vertical groupings, using just three at a time or as many as 33. Flipping on and off different combinations of the lights gives the works elastic personalities.

The tubes wrapped in dark gray, for instance, “almost look like lead pipes or steel pipes,” says Irwin. “You turn it on and that pipe becomes light. It’s like alchemy.”

One second a sculpture looks crisp and industrial, and the next, diaphanous and sensual. Cool colors turn warm and vice versa. “There’s a moment of shock,” Irwin smiles.

Read the full story about Irwin’s surprising new work in Sunday’s Arts & Books section.

--Leah Ollman