George Byrne – ‘Local Division’

For colour and architecture inspiration, we’re wowed by photographer George Byrne’s striking shots of Los Angeles…

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

Australian photographer George Byrne captures the graphic shapes and colours of Los Angeles’ streetscapes in his new exhibition ‘Local Division’, currently showing at Sydney gallery Olsen Irwin.

Born in Sydney in 1976, Byrne started out studying painting but discovered photography in his late teens. He graduated from the Sydney College of the Arts in 2001 before settling in LA in 2010, where he has concentrated on his photographic practice.

Architecture fans will love the clean-lined buildings, snapped both from a distance and in geometric detail, some flat, two-dimensional planes, others textural and almost painterly. Some images feel abstract and becalmed, with a sculptural still-life quality. Street furniture from posts to parking signs and lights adds to the static feel (imagine late Adelaide artist Jeffrey Smart’s vibrant urban paintings transformed to photos).

Byrne’s palette is beautiful, portraying a dreamy mix of soft pastels – minty greens, dusky pinks and baby blues – contrasted with primary yellows, reds and cooler cobalts. Colour pops up on painted roofs and pavement edging, stripy wall tiles and vibrant doors, strings of balloons and a doughnut-like inflatable ring bobbing in a turquoise hotel pool.

ABOVE: 'Temple St', 2015
ABOVE RIGHT: 'Motel Grand', 2014
BELOW FROM LEFT: 'Hotel Pool #1', 2015; 'Green and White #2', 2015; all archival pigment prints, editions of five

Byrne has a way with shadows too, incorporating their intrusive shapes, especially those of LA’s trademark palm trees, often cut-off in unexpected ways. Perhaps it’s his Australian roots, as the harsh light in his homeland is equally blinding. Bright modernist exteriors are backdropped by faded signs and retro typography, conveying a bitter-sweet sense of nostalgia.

ABOVE: 'Ace Hotel Sth Broadway', 2015

This being LA, hotels and motels get their hour in the sun too, including a vertiginous view looking down from the Ace Hotel Downtown on South Broadway. Yet it’s not the glamorous parts of the city that seem to interest Byrne, rather the run-down, neglected and unsung quarters of town. And in a city where everyone drives, shots of empty streets are animated by the rare pedestrians walking, lonesome in an Edward Hopper-esque way, including one sporting a cinematic cowboy hat (real life or film set?).

ABOVE FROM TOP: '99c Silverlake', 2015; 'Cowboy', 2015

‘Borrowing from the clean, vivid clarity of modernist painting, Byrne references the New Topographics photography movement via a subject matter firmly entrenched in the urban everyday,’ states Byrne’s CV. His work ‘spins LA’s most disposable architecture and redundant landscapes into seismic moments. He seeks the subliminal and sublime in the everyday.’ Early influences included artists Piet Mondrian, Richard Diebenkorn, David Hockney and Jeffrey Smart; photographers Walker Evans, William Eggleston, Stephen Shore and Andreas Gursky were also creative inspirations.

All the ‘Local Division’ shots are archival pigment prints, in editions of five with two artist’s proofs. Sizes are large, but smaller options are available on request. You can also follow Byrne’s gallery on Instagram (@george_byrne), which he uses as a visual scrapbook.
olsenirwin.com
George Byrne’s ‘Local Division’ series is on show at Olsen Irwin, 63 Jersey Road, Woollahra, Sydney until 28 February 2016; free entry.