George Byrne | LA Stories
Blue skies, bold lines and the ethereal LA light are what Australian artist George Byrne captures so uniquely. Finding beauty in the ordinary, in the forlorn, in the forgotten corners, and creating brighter still life moments of everyday scenes. An intensity of hue and a palm tree or two, the simple compositions draw you into an abstract view of urban moments, of life on pause. There is a stillness, a quiet intensity, and a feeling of mid-afternoon voyeurism of common landscapes. Byrne has produced an impressive body of work that straddles art and photography, forging a new medium for a new generation.
Born in Sydney in 1976, Byrne graduated from Sydney College Of The Arts in 2001, travelled extensively, and settled in Los Angeles in 2010 where he has been focusing on his photography as art, all the while growing a large and loyal audience. An Instagram favourite, he started using it as a visual scrapbook in 2013, and the gallery (@george_byrne) has evolved to become an important and popular extension of his broader art practice. Byrne’s exhibition from the Local Division series at Olsen Irwin Gallery proved his hometown popularity too.
IN/OUT met with George Byrne at his Chinatown studio, visited his favourite local diner and found he is living the LA dream, six years on, and taking success, the creative process and living life abroad in his generous stride.
LA is a completely decentralised, choose-your–own-adventure town with myriad scenes overlapping.
What do you love about LA?
Weather aside, what I love about LA is that it has all the energy and opportunity of a major world city but it’s not cramped and rent is affordable. This means not everyone is clambering to be on the coast or in this area or that area, everyone is everywhere and there is stuff going on all over the place. It’s a completely decentralised, choose-your–own-adventure town with myriad scenes overlapping. It’s also a city in the midst of a major renaissance, there is a huge amount of investment in the arts and urban development going on so areas are changing quickly making it very exciting and interesting to be amongst. I also love the mountains, the diversity, the Mexican heritage, the light, the colour the food. Traffic sucks but you learn to deal with it.
You live in East Hollywood (Little Armenia). Why did you choose this neighbourhood and can you share some favourite local haunts?
It’s cheap, central to everything and has amazing Armenian and Thai food. My studio is 20 minutes south-east in Chinatown. Fav Restaurants: Arax and Stella
What is a typical day in LA for you?
Depending on where I’m at in the cycle of making work, I will often start the day down at my studio then drive somewhere (driving is a very common theme) for something. I also carry a camera with me so I’ll often shoot something through the day.
Where you draw your daily inspiration?
From urban landscapes and surfaces.
Tell us about your career path?
I was interested in music and the visual arts from a young age, I ended up doing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Sydney University majoring in Photography and my career as an exhibiting artist began pretty soon after that. To sustain myself I’ve also had 20 years worth of different jobs in construction, bars, café’s, and the music industry.
We know you for your art, can you tell us a bit more about your life as a musician?
Yes I’ve released a couple of records under my name and been playing guitar in bands since I was 12 years old so I sometimes feel like I have a bit of a creative split personality! The last few years though, have been much more focused on the art practice.
What first inspired you to start the photography art series?
My most recent work is a reaction to moving to Los Angeles. I was immediately fascinated by the landscape here, the colour, the light and the lines were ingredients for me to explore a certain aesthetic that’s been bubbling away in me for years.
How do you create your artwork? Can you tell us about the process?
The first step is locating the raw ingredients for an image, the next step is loading your film and walking into the space to find the shot. Sometimes its quick and easy and other times I have to revisit the space multiple times before I get it. From there every few months I have to sit down and look at what I’ve shot, sorting through hundreds of images and see what’s working. Slowly I’ll narrow down the pictures into a set (or sets) and then I have to rescan the negs, work on final prints with my lab in LA and then send them off to the framer and try and sell ’em!
How important are digital platforms such as Instagram to your brand and product?
This current series (Local Division) really came to fruition in part via Instagram. In 2013 I started shooting a lot on my iPhone and was noticing that the limitations of that camera was leading me shoot in a different way, I was reducing my images down to very elemental studies. When I transposed this approach back to medium format film I was able to blow the images up and discover a whole other aesthetic. It’s been a strangely symbiotic relationship. Social media is also a very useful tool for promotion and giving your supporters a way to keep across your creative process.
Can you tell us about your upbringing in Australia?
I grew up in an inner-city suburb of Sydney called Balmain, in a big family – mum/dad, 3 sisters and a dog called Emma – down near the old docks at Mort Bay. While we had it great, in the 80’s/90’s Balmain was still a pretty rough and tumble place, a lot of the old factories were still smouldering and the money hadn’t yet steamrolled the area. As a pre-teen what I recall is just having a lot of space to run around and explore. From 16 on it was a bit like growing up in a Danny Boyle movie or a Cold Chisel song. There were probably 20 small pubs within walking distance of my house and each one had its own little drama unfolding. An amazing assortment of crooks and characters would sit at the bars and laugh and drink and smoke. Kids would fall in and out of love, drink too much and run around causing havoc. It was really fun.
What does living a beautiful life mean to you?
I’ve never really thought about what constitutes living a beautiful life but I guess it’s pretty all-encompassing! Trying to be a good person and have empathy and awareness for other people. Try and have balance, I can get overly immersed in work so I have to remember sometimes to stop and look at the sky and remind myself I’m standing on a planet floating in the Universe. Living a beautiful life might also mean just being aware of beauty and connecting with it as a life force, wherever you may find it.
What are your favourite travel destinations?
I haven’t travelled for travel’s sake for a while but the places that stand out that I’ve been are India, China and more recently New Zealand. Amazing amazing.
What do you miss about Australia?
First and foremost I miss seeing my family on the reg, they’re a seriously good mob. Also, the Australian sense of humour has a particular dryness that I miss + the whole ‘she’ll be right’ ‘no worries’ attitude might well be Oz clichés but I tell you the longer you are away the realer it gets. I also miss the clear white light, the blissful isolation, healthcare, I also MISS having 5 easy channels of free to air TV. SBS news. Serena Tuna. Rugby League. 702am. Pizza Shapes (although they have recently changed the recipe), Iggy’s bread, passionfruit and magnificent Bondi Beach the list goes on I better stop there or I’ll get homesick.
I can get nostalgic about almost any era but the roaring 20’s looked pretty radical.
What artists inspire you?
Richard Diebenkorn, Stephen Shore, David Hockney, William Kentridge & 100 others.
Could you name a quote that sums up how you live your life?
‘Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.’
Best piece of advice you have been given?
Keep at it.
So what is next for George Byrne? With plans to expand his Local Division series to Miami and possibly Texas, he also hopes to release a book with polaroids he took at Joshua Tree, revealing a darker mood and tone… and is working on a new album and short-film.
Despite his laid-back charm, George Byrne is as industrious as he is creative, and Hollywood is definitely calling.
What are you currently…
Coveting: The time to make a film or write a song.
Preparing: Cheese On Toast
Watching: The 2016 US Election Coverage
Listening: Frank Sinatra
Trawling: Good quotes (see Pissarro’s above!)
Giving: 6 images to the Children’s Cancer ward.
Dreaming: Writing and directing a short film
George Byrne artwork available at Olsen Irwin Gallery.