is a chaste fantasist and an erotic iconoclast, remaking the sacred naïve pornography of his adolescence into a shifting representation of sexuality that is not simply a catalog of ready-made alternatives but a redefined and fanciful altered state.
Irwin can be seen as something of an appropriation artist who doesn’t restrict himself to merely appropriating, a found-object artist for whom the finding is only half the fun. Selecting pages from vintage pornography, Irwin undoes the lusty plastic polish of the magazine, rubbing out the sheen and often much of the image itself, isolating erogenous zones of special interest with the focus of a loving eye. Through a variety of rugged and astringent processes, he softens the blunt sexuality of the found image, abstracting the depicted scene into a vision far more ephemeral and imaginative, censoring much of what might have been shocking about the image in its original form and invoking instead a more suggestive and expansive erotic landscape of tenderness and perversion, intimacy and lust, chastity and lasciviousness.
Irwin’s work represents a reduction of these pornographic pages to their most essential forms, and the intimate works conduct a kind of discreet dialogue with art history, at once evocative of Old Master sketches, anatomy studies, quiet portraits of loved ones, and erotic art. He works from images “that were created with little aesthetic regard, for prurient interest alone, to be used and then disposed of,” he says, and which yet exhibit in his hands all of the suggestive power of the finest and most elevated draftsmanship.
Stephen Irwin lives and works in Louisville, Kentucky. His work has been exhibited at the New Center for Contemporary Art, Louisville, KY; The Speed Museum in Louisville, KY; and DePauw University. His work has appeared in Butt Magazine and Art Papers, and is in the collections of the Speed Museum and 21c Museum, both in Louisville, KY.'