Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Humans of Frome – Rob Irving

Story posted on

Rob spent the first months of his life parked in a pram in his father’s lingerie shop in Shrewsbury, where he developed a keen eye for women’s intimates. Sadly, Rob’s parents went separate ways leaving him, his older brother, and mother – turfed onto the street by the bailiffs – to seek refuge in Kington, Herefordshire – still Rob’s spiritual home – before moving cross-country to Croydon.

Life in Croydon was not the easiest for young Rob, who, haivng failed the 1-plus exam, was sent to a school 20 miles out of town. He left there as soon as he could, his teachers having written him off as a lost cause. At 15, Rob got a job as a Saturday boy at a barber shop. Who would have known that this would be a gateway to adventures in the fashion industry that would lead him to the other side of the world and into the glamorous world of Andy Warhol?

His first sight of French Vogue magazine changed his destiny. Fashion photography, especially the shoe advertisements shot by Guy Bourdin, awakened something in him. He would be just like Guy Bourdin. With this goal in mind, working in a salon by day, in the evening he offered hairdressing services free of charge to fashion photographers in London – burning the candle at both ends, but growing ever closer to realising his ambition.

Watching the photographers at work it occurred to Rob that he could just as easily be calling the shots. He acquired a camera and set forth with the same determination that had led him to the cutting edge of London’s fashion elite. It wasn’t so easy and involved a lot of hard work – he even lived in his car for a period of time – but he remained sure that this was the life for him. Eventually he was commissioned to photograph a cover for Custom Car magazine, which was incidentally the first cover where the model kept her clothes on.

Another ambition of Rob’s was to be a contributor to Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, so when friends moved to LA, he followed suit. Soon his shoe adverts were appearing in the magazine. Rock star Dee Snider of Twisted Sister was his first editorial commission, when he found himself in a run-down hotel in San Diego with the rather divaesque singer and a 15-minute window to create his portrait. It featured full-page in that year’s music issue. By this time, Rob was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Robert Mapplethorpe and other great photographers of the time – however, he admits he was never keen on doing the networking necessary to keep that kind of career afloat.

He returned to Bath, wanting to live in a city he could walk across in an afternoon. For a while he worked for Future Publishing, shooting covers for Needle Craft magazine, which wasn’t necessarily the best fit for someone who had just returned from a rock and roll existence in LA. Exposure to Warhol and the Basquiat art scene had left him hungry for other exciting movements in the art world. It was at this time that he first became aware of crop circles and soon identified them as an art form; he liked how they challenged binary thinking in a similar way to those of the artists of the LA scene.

Rob has always had an affinity with ancient monuments, Silbury Hill in particular. It wasn’t long before he became ‘part of the phenomenon’ himself, making circles near the mound, anonymously under cover of darkness and forever unclaimed by him. ‘What makes crop circles art’ he explains, ‘lies in the performance and reactions of their audience – they are art all the time people don’t see them as art.’ The science journal Nature described crop circle making as ‘a growing underground art movement combining mathematics, technology, stalks and whimsy’.

As part of a group called The Circlemakers, Rob has travelled around the world working for various clients including Nike, Greenpeace, Microsoft, and others, as well as artistic collaborations with Santiago Sierra (who told Rob that ‘What you are doing is currently the most exciting form of contemporary art – vive la alien revolution!’) and the American Nu Metal band Korn.

Having dabbled in journalism, Rob took his experiences to university as a mature student, gaining an MA in Art & Design and subsequently a PhD. Nowadays, Dr. Rob’s research interests are built around his photography, moving image, text, and occasional covert artistic interventions, exploring the perceptual links between the visual appearance of a place or landscape and the phenomena associated with it – how certain places, like Avebury for example, often attract a higher expectation of something magical happening. He is currently working on a ‘radical re-make’ of Derek Jarman’s cult super-8 film A Journey to Avebury. Next month he is talking at an academic conference about art and archaeology.

Rob’s short film ‘Silbury Hill’ is currently showing at The RWA Open Exhibition in Bristol. It also featured in this year’s Wells Arts Contemporary exhibition at The Bishop’s Palace, Wells, as well as winning the 2018 Fringe Arts Bath Open Art Prize. Check @drrobirving on Instagram for further information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *