“I know a place
Where the grass is really greener…
Sippin’ gin and juice
Laying underneath the palm trees.”
– ‘California Gurls’, Katy Perry
While Katy Perry sang an ode to LA, sipping on some gin and juice, George Byrne moved all the way from Balmain, Australia to get a taste of the greener grasses of Los Angeles, California, where he currently resides.
The painter, and Instagram sensation turned fine-art photographer, opens his first solo show in India at Akara Art, Mumbai titled “In Plane Sight” that presents his oeuvre of urban landscapes of LA. With his previous shows, “Post Truth”, “Abstracts, and “New Order” amongst many others, the banality of every day is coloured in with his signature soft pastel shades that transports you right into the sets of a David Hockney painting. And we are drinking them up like a watermelon cocktail on a hot summer’s day.
Most Hollywood fans recognize Byrne as the older brother of Rose Byrne, the Australian sweetheart in The Bridesmaids, Neighbours, and our personal favourite Adult Beginners. But as Rose takes over Hollywood with her charismatic acting, George captures his fans through his personal journey into fine-art photography.
Exhibiting his first show at the age of 21, Byrne began his foray into the arts while studying at the Sydney College of Arts. And it comes as no surprise that his work intricately weaves in the styles of modern abstraction, with his use of empty and desolate urban landscapes.
At first glance, one would think that these picturesque spaces were part of an accidental stroke of luck, but Byrne spends a large part of his time in the studio cleverly crafting these aesthetic masterpieces.
Influenced by the New Topographic Movement, curated by William Jenkins at the International Museum of Photography in New York, in 1975, a movement that celebrated the various everyday structures of the post-industrial landscapes. The exhibition became a turning point in the arts, steering away from the obvious use of the photographic medium, the movement allowed photography to create its own narrative as an art form that didn’t necessarily have to document an event, but instead could contain in itself, intricate layers that allowed the freedom of abstraction in its creation as Byrne rightly pointed out.
Joining Ed Ruscha in his modernist portrayals of the sunshine of Los Angeles,
Art Fervour got a chance to speak to Byrne to ask him about his first solo show in India at Akara Art, his journey from picture-taking to incorporating nuanced abstraction into his work, his art inspiration and even his travel plans for the future. *(Finger crossed)
AF : Your first two solo shows were based on your travels in India and Italy, how does it feel exhibiting in India? Is there a fondness for the country that’s come full circle with your current exhibition at Akara Art?
GB : Very much so, I count my two trips to India as the most formative travels of my life so the country holds a very special place in my heart and mind. I just wish I was able to be in Mumbai for the opening! It is very interesting to go back and see the works I shot in India and see some of the parallels.
AF : Is there something about American urban landscapes in particular that tickled your fancy/informed your work or was it a serendipitous relationship with LA that came into being in your body of work for “In Plane Sight”?
GB : I was very taken or charmed by the landscape of Southern California from the moment I arrived. I think it’s the lack of any real historical construct. The whole place just felt very temporary and thrown together but aged at the same time. Herein lied the “accidental beauty” that Jon Fante wrote in his amazing novel Ask The Dust, this influenced me very much.
AF : Your visual language has been influenced by the new topographic movement of the 1970’s, and abstract techniques borrowed from painting, can you tell us how you bring these together in your work?
GB : Yes, I have consciously been aiming to mash those two influences together as they are my two formative influences as an artist. The New Topographics photography movement was about celebrating the “anti-landscape”, placing a deeper creative and conceptual meaning to what is seen, beyond the conventional. Painting is obviously an expressive medium where the artist begins at zero i.e. the blank canvass. So, what I do is somewhere in between, and I think it’s a unique and exciting place to exist creatively.
AF : Your photographs present us with simplistic elements that are combined with a colour wheel of joviality. In the age of excessive information overload, do you see your work as a kind of meditation and stillness to urban life?
GB: Yes I do. I really think my work is an attempt to instill meaning and calm in chaos. It looks easy, but I think it’s actually incredibly difficult. My work is essentially anti nihilist, I’m looking to place higher meaning in the disposable somewhat “ugly” urban environments that so many of us exist in. My works are also clearly paying homage to the LA landscape, as I don’t have the same creative impulses in all urban environments that I place myself in.
AF : Having previously dabbled in painting yourself, are there any artists that have or currently influence your work?
GB : Yes, I’m in love with the paintings of Patricia Treib – check her out ☺
AF : Your photographs focus on line, form, and space and contain few very if no human subjects in them. As we currently navigate through the necessities of social distancing and isolation during the pandemic, do you see the present phenomenon affecting or changing your practice, or do you think the deserted landscapes speak for themselves?
GB : I think my work will continue to speak for itself, but the themes of isolation and separation do suddenly feel more poignant.
AF : From starting out on Instagram to exhibiting your work around the globe, how has your artistic journey been so far?
GB : Pretty amazing, although it’s been a lot of hard work. It’s also worth noting – I had my first exhibition when I was 21 years old, that’s 23 years ago. So, my photo journey started well before the iPhone. The tech breakthroughs of 2008-10 + my moving to LA, created the perfect storm for me to thrive and create in a way that wasn’t possible before. I consider myself very lucky.
AF : In an interview with Artist Profile, you mentioned that part of your artistic evolution is to avoid walking to locations you’ve already been to before, do you have any countries in mind that you’d like to explore and add to your growing portfolio of work?
GB : Yes so so many, too many to name. But the top of the list is Mumbai, I would love to revisit after so many years to see how the city has changed.
AF : Is there a particular palette or colours that you choose to juxtapose the urban landscapes your photograph, or is there a focus on the edges and lines that dominate your photographic eye?
GB : I tend to go for pastels (pink, green, yellow) …I love the chalky washed out buildings. But lately I’ve also been experimenting with bolder reds and whites as well.
As we all try to navigate through our Edward Hopper-esque urban lives, Byrne’s work adds a lot more than a pop of colour to the barren topography of the ever bright Los Angeles scenery. His ability to piece together the multiple locations he visits into a single picture that would brighten even the darkest room stands for his ability as an artist, photographer and traveller.
You can visit Akara Art, Mumbai by appointment till the 24th of October, 2020, to view “In Plane Sight” by George Byrne or head to their website to view his works as they give you a glimpse of LA from his eyes.