Artist George Byrne Merges Photography With Painting In Incredible Ways

Lap Swimmer (2021) by George Byrne

 Not quite photography, not quite painting – Australian artist George Byrne's work inhabits a surreal space between two mediums.

During a recent trip to Montreal, Canada, Sydney-born artist George Byrne walked up the same street twice a day for a month before he “started noticing an image coming to life on this piece of sidewalk”. Only then did he consider taking his first photograph in the city. “That was a classic example of how long it takes for me to marinate in a place before I’ve got something to work with.”

Which may surprise anyone who has followed his career. In the six years he’s been “doing this and nothing else”, Byrne, the older brother of actor Rose Byrne, has held more than 10 solo exhibitions, released a book, Post Truth, and garnered attention around the globe (including some 130,000 Instagram followers) for his dreamy takes on mundane urban settings.

George Byrne

Moving to Los Angeles a decade ago set Byrne, who graduated from Sydney College of the Arts in 2001 before turning his attention to music, on this path. “Through the landscape of that city, I found my muse,” he says, adding that his early photographs were documenting his new environment “in a fairly straight way”. But, he says, “as I’ve gone on I’ve tried to push the photographs towards a painterly, impressionistic style. It’s new topographic urban surrealism, photo assemblage – and ‘phainting’.”

For his latest exhibition, Innervisions (at Olsen Gallery in Sydney until 13 November), and with the pandemic ruling out travel to capture new work, Byrne drew on his existing photographs from Los Angeles, Miami and Sydney. “I was suddenly having to source my inspiration from my own head, as opposed to the physical world. There are certain images that point to how I was feeling at the time. Some of them are quite joyful, some of them a little more foreboding and there’s this hint of anxiety flowing through.”

But, he adds, it’s all subjective – and therein lies the payoff. “Whenever I have a show, many people get right up close, looking for the division between what is real and what isn’t.”

Exhibited at: Olsen Gallery, Sydney, Olsen Gruin Gallery, New York, and Soho House, Los Angeles.

Breakthrough moment: Byrne credits Instagram as the “on ramp” for his work being recognised by renowned galleries. “It helped me have a built-in audience when I started to exhibit.”

What the critics say: “His work has wonderful compositional and spacial qualities. His refined aesthetic is experienced through his acute eye for colour, shape and tone. His photography also alludes to the more painterly attributes of some of the notable artists in recent history.” Tim Olsen, founder and director, Olsen Gallery.

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Image credit: Justin Chung

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