Selected essays

by Susan McCulloch

Wit, a keen eye for observation, precise capturing of the unique qualities of a street, town or building, its light, history and people, combine to bring a rare depth to Tony Irving’s atmospheric urban landscapes. Whether taking the broader scale of a street curving into the distance, or homing in on a particular building, Irving’s vistas possess a strong sense of intimacy. Here, one feels, the artist has immersed himself in the midst of everyday activities and the changes of light through many days. Often there is an intriguing sense of anticipation, as though a person or group has just left the scene, or is about to appear. It is this that adds a further dimension, and sense of quiet drama, to these often peaceful scenes and lifts them from works of mere realist documentary to those of true engagement between the artist, his subject and the viewer.
Throughout, Irving’s skill as a draughtsman is evident. When I first met Tony Irving in the late 1970s, his art practice included work as a freelance illustrator for books. Irving’s fluid drawings and imagination transformed myriad subjects with remarkably successful results.

Concurrently, Irving, who had won the prestigious National Gallery of Victoria’s John McCaughey Prize, and whose work was being collected by significant public collections, continued to exhibit and hone his painterly skills. This included the creation of many trompe l’oeil murals, for which he has received numerous commissions throughout Australia and Asia. Here too, Irving’s artistic wit and imagination shine in the creation of a wide variety of scenes, from those of ancient Rome to lush fantasy forest worlds.

In all, Irving’s great skill is the ability to meld the classical styles of the masters he so admires – Vermeer, Rembrandt, Canaletto and others – with his own entirely contemporary capturing of urban scenes, whether those of exotic Moroccan streets, Italian villages and iconic Parisian buildings, or Australian laneways and streetscapes, with a highly individual vision and impressive flair.

-Susan McCulloch, Melbourne, 2009


by Brian Dunlop


When realist painters step outside the door, they are immediately confronted by an overwhelming range of possibilities for subject matter, just at normal eye level. Turning their heads one way or another, up or down, provided they are paying quite concentrated attention, they encounter a complete range of choices that embrace the relationship of forms, observation of light radiations, and every other visual permutation, all factors that are filtered through their personality, background, knowledge and memories. The artist must select stringently from this abundance.

Tony Irving has chosen to restrict the range of his subjects to his immediate and familiar environment. Sketching what appeals to him, returning many times to observe the most suitable light and weather, selecting according to his temperament, he learns to respect and understand the motive that attracts him. He takes what is required and leaves the rest untouched. It is an act of love – deferring to the other.

Tony Irving was for some years almost overwhelmed by the formidable traditions of Western art, aesthetically and technically. In conversation, he is likely to reverentially mention such artists as Canaletto, Gerome and Sargent names that the standard art world has shunted into darkness. However, fine paintings have immense patience. When backs are turned, they are likely to quietly reappear after an absence of many years, as though they had always been around.

Irving is a completely modern artist, existing fully in the contemporary world. Not unlike the American painter Edward Hopper, he does not deviate from or compromise with his obsessions in spite of – or to spite – the pressures of art fashion, dismantling, then meticulously transforming the exterior world of facts his way.

Brian Dunlop 2004 


 Tony Irving video, courtesy Eva Breuer Gallery…