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Robert Irwin was born in 1944 and spent most of his childhood moving around the South until his parents settled in Atlanta in the 50s. His mother was a teacher and his father worked for the forest service. Irwin attended the University of Georgia in the early 60s when Lamar Dodd, a member of the Ashcan School, was in his zenith.
Throughout the 70s Irwin worked as a museum designer, eventually leaving to get his masters degree in Product Design from the NCSU School of Design where professors and mentors Joe Cox and George Bireline had a great influence on his life.
In the 80s he founded Images, Inc., a design and fabrication company, producing high-end custom furniture. At Images he was able to be creative and use his design skills, but, ultimately, painting became his driving ambition. In the early 90s he sold his company and moved to the North Carolina coastal city of Beaufort where he pursues his painting career and his love of sailing. The conscious decision to sell the company and move to the coast was motivated by his desire to simplify life and live near the water. Water appears in most of his paintings, drawing a connection that is more than casual between himself and his environment.
Robert Irwin: 40 Years (2005)
Intro by Bernie Reeve, Editor & Publisher, Metro Magazine
THE EYE OF THIS BEHOLDER
What it is that makes you like a painting is elusive. I like Bob Irwin's paintings because I do. And now, after reading this book, I know more about why. Maybe it's because I like Bob too, but I like and don't like lots of people - and lots of art. So what is it that makes me want his paintings on my walls?
Maybe it's because Bob is genuine; therefore his art is honest, and there you have it. I could talk about the images he conjures in the mind with his wistful evocations of buildings and boats and things that make his paintings dream- like, even those that are stark and direct, like the abandoned gas station over my sofa. The big bows thrusting out of the canvas above the fireplace and the bold and colorful dolphins starring in his recent series of paintings are true to life, but in that same ethereal fashion that characterizes his work from the commencement of his talented career. I have some of those too in my collection of Irwin's. It's like an archeological dig around here, scraping the years off and looking at them like layers of lost civilizations.
In my experience, after 25 years of publishing in this region, I have seen a steady parade of artists. Liking them is often impossible, even when you admire their work enough to want to know them. I do like Bob and his art. I was a customer who appreciated the boldness of his furniture designs. I addressed his class of prisoners at the Dickensian old Central Prison. We have talked and argued and interacted with each other for 20 years or more, and he has yet to display guile or deceit or dishonesty. The same goes for his paintings. My now deceased mother Cam, the poet and art collector, regarded by most as the region's foremost cultural stand bearer, recognized Bob's talent before I did.
I also know Bob's wife, Melissa, one of the last of the class acts left in our balkanized politically correct society, and if she likes Bob, that's enough for anyone. She introduced me to his work while he was introducing me to his furniture, long before they became an item. So I know them both before and after, and after is very pleasing indeed. I can't salute Bob without a formal bow to Melissa. Together they are class act part two.
Bob can tell you in these pages why he is what he is. I can only tell you he's a rare one; an honest man with genuine talent.
Editor & Publisher, Metro Magazine