An Interview with Los Angeles-Based Australian Photographer George Byrne
Aug 17, 2018
George Byrne has an eye for recognizing the formal visual patterns of everyday life. In his adopted home town of Los Angeles, he wanders the city capturing photographic compositions that mimic the visual languages of Modernist abstract art. Geometric shapes; linear patterns; color fields; biomorphic forms; optical illusions—everywhere he looks he sees the interplay between all of these things. Through his lens, the sometimes mundane aesthetic environment of the city is transformed into a universe of intrigue and emotion. Like Italian photographer Franco Fontana and German conceptual artists Bernd and Hilla Becher, Byrne has an innate gift for using the camera not only to capture what is plainly visible for anyone to see, but also to reveal the hidden world of beauty and complexity that so many of us might otherwise miss as we pass through our daily lives. We recently had a chance to catch up with Byrne and hear his thoughts about his work, his practice, and the relationship he has between photography and abstract art.
IdealArt: Some of your photographs are the portraits of the city and the landscape, but flat shapes are dominant in them, so they look more abstract in their intention. Tell us a bit more about your work in general and why you are attracted to photography as a medium?
George Byrne: When I first started taking photos in my early teens, I was also painting & drawing so I think that led me to approach photography in a fairly open way from the outset. I was interested in how photographs of simple ready-made things could depict a feeling or a mood like an abstract painting could. I’ve always shot in natural light. I never had much luck with commercial work, but over the years I’ve experimented with many different cameras and had a go at everything from portraiture to more traditional black and white landscapes.
It was moving to Los Angeles 8 years ago that led me down the path I’m currently on. The landscape here stuck a chord with me in a big way, as soon as I got here I could literally just see all these pictures that I wanted to take, it was as if they were all being served up on a platter. I was (and still am) completely fascinated with the place. Through lots of trial & error (and driving) I was able to piece together a series that seems to keep on evolving.
George Byrne - Blue Awning with Yellow
IA: Can you describe your creative process?
GB: At the moment I’m preparing for two exhibitions, so I’m in my studio waist deep in negatives in front of a giant cork-board covered in images trying to get the images together. The creative process takes place in cycles but it is always simmering away. I’m constantly shooting.
Each exhibition takes the DNA of the previous one and builds on it. I’m still pretty new to the whole concept of doing this full time so I’m still refining the process. But its fun and I feel very lucky to be doing this for a living.
IA: Which artists have influenced your work?
GB: So many - but to name a few, off the top of my head: Patricia Leib, Richard Diebenkorn, Alice Byrne (sister), Stephen Shore, David Hockney, William Eggleston, Jeff Smart, Pierre Mondrian, Picasso, Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus gang.
George Byrne - New Order, Hollywood Blvd
IA: What are the galleries with which you work closely? Where can our readers find your work?
GB: I currently work and exhibit with the following galleries: Olsen Gallery in Sydney, Olsen Gruin in NYC, BAU XI Gallery in Vancouver. People are also welcome to contact my studio directly at email@example.com. We do studio visits by appointment.
IA: What do you think of abstraction?
GB: I think it’s great, it’s magical. To me, it represents the 4th dimension of conscious human thought and perception. Nothing in it really needs to makes any rational sense, it just is. It’s marks being made in reaction to other marks and it either works or it doesn’t.
George Byrne - Corner Composition, Palm Springs
IA: Do you believe that art has a transformative power, to make some difference in today's society? (If so, in what way precisely).
GB: I would like to think so. I’ve often thought about this stuff, as art is what I spend 99% of my time on. I often question the value or point, of it all. I think in some instances art could play a part in transforming culture, but ultimately I think it helps make people feel something, which I think is a good thing. It’s just a vital and necessary ingredient to the complex stew of humanity and culture. It’s also a great historical marker.
IA: Do you have some upcoming exhibition any time soon?
GB: Yes! I have a couple of exhibitions coming up. One at Bau Xi Gallery in Vancouver that opens in October, and another at Olsen Gallery in Sydney, that opens in early February 2019. The best way to stay up to speed with things is on my Instagram account @george_byrne.
Featured image: George Byrne - Echo Park
All images courtesy of the artist