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In Focus: George Byrne

In Focus: George Byrne
In his latest exhibition Post Truth, George Byrne combines his vivid depictions of the American landscape with abstract elements to blur the line between fantasy and reality. To coincide with his new body of work, we spoke with the Sydney-born, LA-based artist about his creative process and life in the city of angels.

George Byrne's vivid depictions of the American streetscape are often characterised by dusky hues, clean lines and a sense of calm isolation amongst the urban chaos. His striking large-scale photographs reveal the beauty in the banal, using everyday surfaces to create painterly abstractions.

Growing up in Sydney's inner-west before relocating to Los Angeles in 2011, George's visual style was largely informed by the clarity of modernist painting and the urban subject matter explored by the New Topographics photography movement of the 1970s. Since settling in LA, his work has received international acclaim with numerous solo exhibitions, prominent publications and an ever-increasing following on social media.

In his latest series Post Truth, George extends his practice beyond the confines of the lens by extracting photographic material from multiple images to assemble new semi-fictional landscapes. Employing his distinctive visual language to reassemble the urban environment, the resulting images dwell in the space between the real and imagined.

Could you give us a brief insight into your start in photography?

I started taking pictures with my sister’s Canon film camera when I was about 12 years old. I loved the immediacy of the whole thing. I was very driven and wanted to have exhibitions from the outset. I ended up doing a Visual Arts degree in Sydney and it all went from there.

What prompted you to move (and stay) in Los Angeles?

I always wanted to live overseas for a big chunk of my life and LA just ended up being the best option. At the time I left (9 years ago), I was really broke and trying my luck at all sorts of things to stay afloat; music, acting, photography, all of it. So LA was the perfect place to go as it’s a major capital for all that stuff.

People often draw parallels between Sydney and Los Angeles, do you think there are similarities between the two cities?

Yes, I think there are lifestyle parallels. The sun, the beach, the mountains nearby. I think California and NSW are the two most beautiful states I have ever seen. But beyond the physical, the cities are actually very different culturally. LA feels largely Hispanic and South American, which is fantastic. It is also very decentralised and not as oriented to the coast as Sydney.

How would you describe your creative process?

The process of making my work involves a mix of shooting pictures out in the field, assemblage on screen and in cutout form in my studio. The shooting part is just very random and instinctual, I take my cameras everywhere in my car and just keep my eye out for things. Leading up to an exhibition, once I have enough material I go about working out what the show is and putting it together.

Your work often plays on colour and abstraction, are you drawn to similar qualities in other artists’ work?

Yes, I’m currently hugely inspired by an American painter called Patricia Treib. I’ve also obviously been inspired by countless other artists, but yes I’d say I am definitely drawn to work that plays on colour and form.

Do you have a favourite photograph? (Either your own or someone else’s.)

It’d have to be one of Henri Cartier Bresson’s, he’s the king.

Which other cities do you find most compelling from a visual perspective?

Miami, I love it.

Outside of your work, how do you like to spend your time?

I really love the ocean and I'm trying to read books again.

What do you miss about living in Australia?

Being close to the ocean and my beloved family and friends. Also, there is a different, more calming frequency over here that I feel when I come back.

What’s the one thing you couldn’t live without?

My toothbrush.

George's exhibition Post Truth will be on view at Olsen Gallery until February 17, 2019. To see more of his work, visit his website or follow him on Instagram @georgebyrne.

Photography by Kasia Werstak & Brett East