The Light and Space environments were the brainchild of the artist, writer and lecturer Robert Irwin, together with James Turrell, Maria Nordman and Douglas Wheeler. His approach is focused on investigation of the perceptual experience, involving light, volume and scale within installations which are totally inferred from the site in which they are set up. Basing his approach both on philosophical and phenomenological reflections and on a scientific knowledge of the effects of perception, he made works which call upon the potential of optical perception. Very swiftly going beyond the aestheticism of his first paintings influenced by the Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s, in the 1960s, with his Late Line Paintings (1963-64), Irwin situated the pictorial experience within the distance between the picture and the spectator. The Dot Paintings (1964-66) marked the beginning of his participation in the Light and Space movement. The curved stretchers which he then used were affixed away from the wall and lit in such a way as to create the illusion of wall/picture integration. In 1970, he introduced installations issuing from the architecture of the place in which he was working. By way of dematerialized structures, suspended and illuminated nylon screens had the function of putting the visitor in the position of a subject “perceiving himself perceiving himself”. This phenomenological understanding of the work would be theorized in his book Being and Circumstances, Notes Towards A Conditional Art (1985). Nowadays Irwin works in public places, questioning the common perceptive field. The one-off object has been left behind, and it is in the permanent interactions of these complex environments that he finds a formal solution, devised as a response to a spatial context. Each work calls for an in-depth study of the site in order to reveal its complexity and sheds light on the many different sensory interactions possible.
Robert Irwin (Long Beach, 1928), lives and works in San Diego. Between 1948 and 1954 he attended the Otis Art Institute, the Jepson Art Institute, and the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. A retrospective show of his work was held in the summer of 1994 at the City of Paris Museum of Modern Art. This travelling exhibition had been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1993, then at the Kölnischer Kunstverein in Cologne, and in Madrid in 1994. In the 1960s, Irwin taught at UCLA, before travelling the world as a lecturer. He has been awarded many prizes including the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 1976-77, and he was the first artist to receive the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship Prize (Genius Award) in 1984.