Porn-Erasing Artist Stephen Irwin Dead at 51

12/31/2010 8:55 AM |

Stephen Irwin

Stephen Irwin, a Louisville, Kentucky-based artist whose work (pictured) has been represented by Lower East Side gallery Invisible-Exports since 2008, was found dead at the Louisville art collective Zephyr Gallery on Monday morning. A member of the group for about a decade, Irwin has an exhibition on view at the gallery through tomorrow, and was found there by fellow artist member and longtime friend Chris Radtke when she arrived around 11am on the 27th.

Irwin, who had a studio in downtown Louisville and whose partner is from Brooklyn, was born in Kentucky in 1959 and moved to the town after graduating from Murray State University. Louisville daily The Courier-Journal notes that Irwin opened a popular bar that became a popular hangout for local artists in the city center, but after some health problems (including suffering his third heart attack) he decided to dedicate himself to his art full-time about ten years ago.

His work, which involved the manipulation of vintage porn magazines, had been gaining visibility in the last couple years. In a series of works shown at Invisible-Exports in late 2009, he had used steel wool to wear away most of the photos of naked, mustachioed men to a ghostly white, leaving only figure study-like details of hand and faces. At the time, our own Paddy Johnson wrote about Irwin’s work:

the artist’s handling of the material is so careful and masterful, you almost forgot to consider whose cock is being put where. And like good sex, it is the complete immersion in its execution that creates the most memorable moments in this show.

Sad that a rising artist with already his share of memorable moments—and an integral part of the Louisville art community—should die so young. The cause of Irwin’s death is not yet known. (ArtForum; artwork, “Untitled”, 2008, courtesy Invisible-Exports)