Russell Irwin Online Gallery

 

About The Artist

Graphite blocks, studio markers, watercolors and acrylics were the tools that helped me launch a career in the 1980s in what I like to call “arting.” First working for an architectural rendering firm, I soon graduated to freelance illustration for advertising agencies. Work on a government contract in the ‘90s provided opportunities to experiment with techniques and materials, through which I developed two signature creative approaches that have defined my work since that time: Story-Portraits and Paper Mosaics.

Story-Portraits began as murals and paintings displaying the accomplishments and activities of an individual’s career, an organization’s evolution and mission, or details of a significant historical event. A prominent central portrayal is surrounded by woven images conveying a visual narrative.

The name Paper Mosaics comes from the very intentional invention of my torn paper technique for a commission received from the Israel Air Force in 1995. Asked to do a piece of work commemorating the purchase of some Apache Helicopters from the United States, I decided to create a work of art that reflected something more than military hardware – something of the Israeli culture. This led to attempts to mimic the regional mosaic motif. Using torn paper and applying acrylic paint and medium as mortar, I wove the image of an apache Helicopter into the Star of David, Israel’s national symbol. The use of mosaic patterns allowed me to represent the machinery in the context of a deeper cultural history.

Note: Here I must acknowledge that the entire idea was inspired by the timely observation of my twelve-year-old daughter, Ashley, spontaneously and freely slinging around some diluted Elmer’s Glue, torn pieces of paper and watercolors – with remarkable results. When I asked her where she learned such an exciting process, she looked puzzled, before answering, “I’m learning it now.” I mention this to share my enjoyment of the irony in the development of a professional stylization used to immortalize military heroes and legendary pro athletes beginning with the whimsical expressions of a little girl.

For the best – at least, my favorite – description of my Paper Mosaic creations, I have to cite an article written by John Parks in the June 2003 issue of American Artist magazine. Mr. Sparks referred to me as “a type of artistic archeologist.” I have to say I like that. He went on to say: “Often the artist will deliberately obscure an image only to sand back down through the covering layers of paper to reveal it again. This technique conveys an impression that we are rediscovering a history.”

Indeed, sanding through layers of applied papers to rediscover glimpses of mosaic patterns established in the earlier layers is the distinguishing nature of my work. The papers are applied to hollow core panels using acrylic matte medium. This kind of panel is employed because, while light in weight, it stands up to the rigors of sanding with power tools. Along with the application of torn papers and the use of acrylic medium and paint accents I frequently include gilding techniques for the integration of precious metal leafing into the numerous layers of mixed media.

Mr. Parks also identified my work as being built upon “a group of pivotal images organized in a fluidly layered space, where they hang and shimmer like memories.” These are precisely the qualities that I strive to communicate through my artistic creations. Through the manipulation of multiple layers of paper by applied sanding I attempt to define a textural integration of color and design.

In the spring of 2000 a call from the late Jack Buck (Hall of Fame announcer for the St. Louis Cardinals) initiated two more shifts in the focus of my professional arting: sports art and charitable fund raising. The project inspiring the call was a fund raising endeavor requiring a Story-Portrait celebrating Jack’s career, which touched six decades and millions of people. He would eventually name the work of art Vanishing Moments, and it would be used to raise $1million for the Backstoppers, an organization supporting the families of fallen police officers and firefighters. Subsequent arting has taken me into some great projects and fun places: from Seattle Washington and Mt. Rainier to work with world famous mountaineer, Lou Whittaker, to Hollywood to create poster/promotion art for a prominent producer, to Dallas for a spectacular fund raising event at Cowboy stadium and to many homes and businesses I would otherwise have never entered.

It has been my privilege to make my living as a creator for over thirty years, and in so doing work with and for such individuals and organizations as Citigroup, The NFL, Pfizer, Ralston Purina, the USGA, Eveready Battery, Sisters of Mercy Health Systems, the U.S. Army, Missouri University, Kansas University, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Albert and Deidra Pujols, the Dallas Cowboys, Korbell Champagne, The St; Louis Cardinals, Ozzie Smith, Champion Bank, Hale Irwin, Jack Nichlaus, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Roger Staubach, Israel Air Force, the St. Louis Blues, Troy Aikman, Space Shuttle astronaut - General Robert Stewart, Jack Buck and many others. Many of these great people and organizations have assisted me in the added pleasure of raising more than $3million for charitable cause throughout the world.

The work of the artist is not merely a fight for survival in what is arguably the most difficult and competitive of all market places. It is a determined pursuit of cultural relevance and personal impact. To this end seeing is the most important work of the qualified artist. The recognition of the way that I see requires an intentional sensitivity to my responses to the world I live in, the stories that inspire me, the materials that arouse intrigue and invention, and the creative processes with which I can readily identify and call my own. The way I see then directs the application of skills to medium for the worthy conveyance of vision through artistic articulation.

What I see in the day-to-day is layers of complexity and beauty, human story and activity within the redemptive context of God’s Creation and overarching love. I have seen the care and guidance of my heavenly Father in all the movements and details of the above developments, often when I was clueless and undeserving and much of which has been expressed through the generosity, kindness and patience of mentors and friends, like Jack Buck and Hal Lund, and the efforts of agents, promoters and employers who believed in me, like Marty Coulter and Bob Whitesitt, Lindsey Cowey, C. C. Bartells, Norbert Rosen, Peter Beel, Dave George, Joe Buck, Kirk Briden, Vic brown, Ron Cowan and (thankfully) many others. And I have been blest with a remarkable journey partner in my wife Elizabeth, the true “superstar” behind my arting. This has always been a team effort.

Most of all I am appreciative beyond expression for the precious redeeming love of my Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, who daily fills my life with grace and meaning – as if the wondrous gift of eternal life was not already enough! His glorious universe is my constant inspiration and teacher.