I’m sorry I never met Stephen Irwin, the Louisville-based artist who died of an apparent heart attack at 51 in 2010. According to his obituaries, he was the spark of Louisville’s grassroots art scene and something of a wild man. A 2008 piece in Butt, which ran with a portrait of Irwin in the nude, described him as “a true chameleon…, a landscaper, nightclub impresario, international interior decorator, trendsetter, rocker, …modern artist, local celebrity, trash, multiple heart-attack survivor, pacemaker carrier, bitch, and a confidante to Louisville’s ladies of good taste.” Clearly, he was a character, someone who made an impression. But much of the art that he leaves behind is oddly, seductively reticent–at once audacious and reserved. Although the work looks like a fusion of drawing and photography, it is, strictly speaking, neither. Working with pages torn from vintage gay porn magazines, Irwin reduced the printed image to a gesture, an expression, a moment. His process was one of painstaking erasure, abrading the page with steel wool until the paper was thin as a tissue and a roiling dust storm engulfed all but a fragment or a sketch of the original photograph. Inevitably, what Irwin zeroed in on was the image’s essence: not just eroticism but desire–an instance of ecstatic abandon, a flash of genuine passion in the midst of pornography’s chilly mechanics.

—Vince Aletti, 2014


All images courtesy of the Estate of Stephen Irwin and INVISIBLE-EXPORTS