Your friend is in the last stages of aids and wants to get the house ready for their family to clear, so they ask you to take their old porn collection.
This seemed to happen over and over again to artist Stephen Irwin. With no interest in using it for what it was originally intended, he also found it something he couldn’t just put out on the street with the rest of the trash. So he stored them in his attic. In time he had accumulated boxes and boxes of it. It just sat there in its attic „closet“ waiting to come out. Thanks to Stephen, not only is it out, but it has been transformed into something extraordinarily beautiful.
Concerned with aesthetic and equally fascinated with the process of printing, Stephen exclusively used porn from the 60s and early 70s. These were the days before it became an industry. The models are naturalistic and genuine, unretouched by graphic designers or plastic surgeons. It wasn’t possible to buy it at a magazine stand. It had to be delivered in a box and labeled as „educational material“. Separate plates were etched for each of the four colors used in the offset printing process. In the 70s plateless printing came in, changing the industry entirely.
By removing the unnecessary elements of the images, Stephen enabled them to evolve. Once something hidden under mattresses, he elevated them to objects gracing the walls of galleries and collectors. He painstakingly removed the layers of ink one at a time, either by polishing with steel wool or by using solvents. In leaving the bare essentials, he exposed the intimacy
That which was mass produced, “created with little aesthetic regard, for prurient interest alone, to be used and then disposed of,” (Steve Irwin) was transformed into the unique: conjuring thoughts of the contrast between sexual encounters, those of one-night- stand versus moments of enthral whilst within the confines of contented relationships…quality vs quantity.
The final product looks quite like an unfinished painting. It draws us in to experience the delicate nature of the paper. It is all these paradoxes that make these pieces so wonderful. We know where they came from, but we only see what they are now. In one object Stephen discourses sexuality in all its diversity.
I was very lucky to be able to interview Stephen in spring 2010. We laughed and talked openly about his work. Neither of us would have guessed he’d die of a heart attack that December. He may have left this world in the flesh, but his dialogue about the pleasures of it continues to thrive. In collaboration with New York based Invisible Exports, Stephen’s solo exhibition, Sometimes When We Touch will be at Galería Arnés y Ropke in Madrid until 31 December. 2014. The 11 September opening coincided with APERTURA 2014 (11-13 September) when Museums and Galleries all over Madrid have their doors open and lots of activities going on.
I talked with Noel Estrada of Galería Arnés y Ropke and asked why they had chosen to exhibit Stephen’s work during such an important time. He and his partner, Stefan Roepke, also have a gallery in Cologne. They’ve been
gallerists for nearly 20 years and have decided it’s time for a change. They want to start a revolution of sorts and they want to lead by example. The aim? Turn the aquisition tide into one of patronage. They are closing the galleries as such and creating r/e projects. This will include, among other things, using the existing spaces for residencies. They want to free artists up to do non- commercial work.
Since Noel and Stefan are currently in the process of the first project, a monograph of Stephen Irwin, they wanted to showcase his work as the Madrid gallery’s final exhibition in its current configuration. The monograph will be 120-140 pages and will have texts from highly respected art scholars and
critics. It will encompass his body of work and they hope inspire others to dig deeper into his life. „He was kind of like the guru/pied piper/Andy Warhol of Louisville,“ smiled Noel.
Noel and Stefan see all the press dedicated to dissing popular artists a waste of energy and want to turn that into a wave of support of good art instead, replace negative energy with positive. They want to encourage today’s artists to take chances and not worry about a safety net. They hope today’s collectors will offer one. Let’s hope they succeed.
Stephen Irwin (1959-2010) lived and worked in Louisville, Kentucky. His work has been exhibited at the New Center for Contemporary Art, Louisville, KY; The Speed Museum in Louisville, KY; INVISIBLE-EXPORTS, New York, NY; Galerie Stefan Röpke, Cologne; Maureen Paley, London; and Exile, Berlin, among others. His work has appeared in the Huffington Post, Butt Magazine, Art Papers, Time Out New York, City Arts, Vice Magazine, and is in the collections of the Speed Museum and 21c Museum, both in Louisville, KY.
The estate of Stephen Irwin NY gallery
the new project (under construction)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
maeshelle west-davies is a Germany-based artist and writer. Her writing credits include Deutsche Welle, Lepizig Zeitgeist and the so social e mini mag. maeshelle mainly works as a time-based artist. Sound, video, photography, dance, performance and public art are the tools she uses to convey her message. Her work has been exhibited at Trestle Gallery in New York, Air Gallery in London, at The Digital Room, Fotografisk Center in Copenhagen, at Any Way Gallery in Berlin, The HDLU in Zagreb, ARTspace in Basel, Montez in Frankfurt, HALLE 14, Westpool AIRspace, the Museum, Gallerie Kub, D21, in front of Leipzig Oper, and the street fair Westbesuch in Leipzig to name a few.