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Rising Stars: Meet Austin Irving

Today we’d like to introduce you to Austin Irving.

Hi Austin, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
My interest in the impact that the spaces we inhabit have on our psyches stems directly from my experiences as a child growing up in the garment district of Manhattan and being exposed to Surrealist art at an early age. We lived in a sixteen story brick building that was originally built as a factory in 1924 but could have doubled as a fortress. Our windows looked out onto the profiles of other such buildings and as you moved through the apartment, a multitude of shifting urban compositions would reveal themselves. Each vantage point exposed different snippets of the street, sky, and sneak peeks into other people’s private worlds, only to be occluded if you took a step back. If I stood in one spot, I could see all the way through several buildings to Madison Square Garden, evoking for me as a child the same feelings as when I contemplated Magritte’s Le Blanc Seing (1965) or Le Poison (1939). I developed a heightened sensitivity to the nuances of spaces as a very young person, and I have remained curious about this connection ever since.

Super nerdy fact about me: I was our high school’s angsty darkroom lab technician. I was so enamored with this unique environment that I begged my mother to let me paint my room at home black and switch out all of the regular light bulbs for red ones, just so I could feel like I was in the darkroom all the time. This exemplified my (dorky!) desire to connect my internal and external worlds and demonstrated a deep level of commitment to my practice at a young age.

Jump to present day, I am still that same kid who gets excited about a weird angle in a hallway and who marvels at the magic of analog photography.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I have had an exceptionally blessed life, filled with love and support from my incredible family and friends, but no life is without some rain. I am lucky that my art practice has been there right by my side the whole time, often unconsciously reflecting back my state of mind. In early 2017, the power of my practice to illuminate subterranean currents of internal dissonance and ultimately initiate self-healing became apparent via a photographic series aptly entitled: CORNERED, which debuted in Los Angeles in 2018 at Wilding Cran Gallery. I realized that these images of corners of rooms were visual representations of body dysmorphic disorder: a corporeal prison in which I was trapped. As this revelation dawned on me, I revisited my previous work and noticed that many of my projects have not only been about investigating tensions that exist in physical environments but also a subconscious investigation of the veiled inner friction I was experiencing but could not yet articulate.

These breakthroughs lead to my seeking help through an intensive outpatient Dialect Behavioral Therapy program. Over the next two years, I worked extremely hard to sever the toxic link between my self-worth and my appearance and transform my relationship to my body, food, exercise, clothing, other bodies, mirrors, advertising, group activities, and my family. There were countless times when I felt there was no end in sight, and it was only with the help of my incredible therapist, friends, family, and my 4×5 camera that I got through the darkest of the dark. I consider this discovery to be one of the most valuable accomplishments of my artistic career due to its profound impact on my health and well-being. I am forever grateful that my practice yielded a true paradigm shift that showed me a way out.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I am a visual artist who works with large format color negative and whose projects investigate the universality of human environments and their impact on our psyches. For the past fifteen years, I have traveled around the world making and exhibiting large-format photographs of spaces that find, follow, comfort, frighten, delight, and haunt me. It is a ritual that helps me make sense of the world and, as I discovered, a way to make visible the hidden aspects of myself that would otherwise remain occluded – visual clues into my inner landscape. In his 1929 book The Metropolis of Tomorrow, the architect and illustrator Hugh Ferris said:

“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.”

My work is in direct conversation with Ferriss’ sentiments as I am drawn to investigating and photographing spaces that exemplify how our environments reflect our internal worlds.

I am the most proud of my commitment to my practice. There have been many times when the path was not clear (and there will likely be more to come), but I am grateful that I continue to stay the course. I think that shooting on large format film definitely sets me apart from other artists working with photography. The richness of color and detail that I can achieve by making images with 4×5 film is incredible!

Before we let you go, we’ve got to ask if you have any advice for those who are just starting out?
For those who are just starting out, my advice is to trust and follow your instincts. Go all-in on yourself. While external validation is nice, it’s important that it doesn’t become the motivating factor when creating new work. Find the things that truly excite you and don’t walk, run towards those things.

Something that I wish I knew when I was starting out is that my strong emotional reactions are valuable sources of information. As a highly sensitive person and an empath, I had for a long time viewed the intensity of my emotional life as a handicap. This is not true! It is actually a superpower and is a very powerful asset.

Contact Info:


Image Credits:

Photo of me at work by Lance Holte

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