Exploring the Forgotten
By Autumn Steam
Diane Irby has always been an artist that needs to find her own path. She prefers to explore and create from her treasures she finds on her journey. “My main concentrations have been photography, collage and jewelry design - and more recently, curating shows.” It is hard to place Irby in a particular genre. “Clear definitions make people feel better, but at the same time, categorizing only creates narrowness, so this doesn't bother me at all. I am just following this path that's in front of me. I am and will always be experimenting and trying to find what I'm best at.”
School always seemed more of a fight than a learning tool. She, “…hated the art classes I took in high school. I didn't like following a syllabus, I just wanted to be left alone to create.” Irby never made it to Art College but realizes there is a place for, “… learning techniques and getting the chance to work with materials and tools you might not have access to.” Now that she is older she would love to take some classes but for her it is all about practicing. “You definitely never stop learning and practicing, practicing, practicing is the most important thing you can do, no matter what medium you work in.”
Diane Irby is only able to create and really explore because of her, “…amazing support system.” Her children, mother and Aunt are some of her biggest fans but she has, “…a ton of friends who want to see me do well, and have and will help me in any way they can. That is something really great about the Detroit art scene - we all TRULY support one another. If anyone needs help with something they just post it on Facebook and people show up to help. That's how we do it here.”
Although she does not do a lot of research before a project she does think about the practical as much as possible. “I love abandoned spaces, but there are always safety issues. First I do a lot of preliminary research on the places I want to explore - mostly utilizing Google Earth and various Urbex message boards. This is an ever-changing arena. No matter how much research you do you really never know what you're going to find. So I usually try to drive by and scope out the surrounding area - sometimes more than once if it's a dangerous area. Of course if I'm traveling, that is not possible. But I usually still drive around and scope the place out a little & see how I might be able to get in and assess the risks before finding somewhere to put my truck. Some places you can just walk in, others you have to find a way in, and I'll just leave it at that.”
Her passion for exploring led to a need to document her findings. “…I never really set out to be a photographer. I'm just a wanderer and an explorer, so I was always finding myself in places I wanted to remember.” She started with a little point and shoot digital camera but recently got a professional camera after realizing she had, “…a natural eye for color and composition.” She is now getting into portrait photography and finds it immensely gratifying. “Everything I know about digital photography and editing I taught myself. I love what is possible when you combine technology and photography. If anyone knew how much time I spend studying or thinking about photography - whether it's lighting, how to pose my subject, Photoshop techniques, instinctively scouting for locations everywhere I go, or dreaming up concepts - you would definitely say that I am obsessed!"
Although Irby’s passion is photography, she also creates collages and makes jewelry. Her collages are created with, “…the abandoned spaces that I harvest my materials from and the materials themselves. All of my collages contain elements that were recovered from places I've explored; I call them treasures - old photographs, personal letters and original poetry scribbled on scrap papers found in deserted homes, fingerprint files from an abandoned police station, pages of books found in long vacant factory offices. My studio is bursting at the seams with forgotten memories.” She combines these little artifacts into amazing collages that begin to tell a new story through Irby’s designs.
Creating jewelry is another outlet that appeals to her. “The jewelry pieces that I design are an obvious reflection of my love for the Victorian era and the customs of that time. I am so fascinated particularly with mourning customs and have been a long-time collector of postmortem photographs of babies and children from that period. I started out using these postmortem images as elements in my jewelry and then one day thought that maybe I could create a modern day version of mourning or memorial jewelry. So now I design necklaces with photos of love ones who have passed, and sometimes this includes pets.” As time passed and she got better at jewelry making her pieces have become, “…more ornate and I sometimes include tiny vials of artifacts, such as whiskers, nail clippings, teeth or furBut the reaction I get when I complete a custom piece for a client who is missing a loved one is a huge pay off. I don't mean to say that I want to see anyone cry, but when they do, I know I've done my job. It's bittersweet.”
Curating art shows is Irby’s latest passion, and she is good at it. “In June  I curated my first show - Poisoned Apples - a Snow White-inspired show at Funhouse Galley Detroit. It was, without a doubt, my biggest personal achievement thus far.” She juried over 150 pieces of artwork that included art from local to international artists and was featured in just about every local publication. “I was able to book some of the best local talent to entertain us, and ended up hosting an opening of an estimated 450 guests! It was amazing! To be able to harness not only that much talent, but also that much appreciation of it, produces an energy that is indescribable.” Irby is now planning the next shows called Odditorium Detroit, November 2012, and INK, late spring 2013.
Irby is an avid Facebook user and acknowledges that when, “Used properly, social networking is an artist's best friend. I've had a plethora of health issues over the past several years and have spent a lot of time home and in bed. Yet, because of online commerce and social networking sites like Facebook, I've managed to sell my artwork to collectors all over the world, curate a huge show and become really involved in the art community. The best part of social networking is that you get to make a lot of friends that you normally otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to meet. I really look forward to sharing new projects with my Facebook friends and am flattered when they buy my work or encourage what I'm doing. But even more so, I am thankful to have them to share my life frustrations, thoughts on the world and photos of my cats with! And I enjoy hearing about their day and laughing with them, encouraging them and having the opportunity to support them in their own times of frustration too. So, it's a win-win.”
Separating art and real life can be a fine line or no line at all. In Irby’s case, she struggles to find the perfect balance of all of her different roles. “…I literally feel as though I eat, sleep and breathe art. Sometimes I have to force myself to take a break from art, which never works out well - I just end up feeling crazier than I did to begin with. My biggest challenge as an artist is maintaining ordinary day to day tasks such as housekeeping, laundry and food shopping. It just doesn't occur to me that these things require my attention until they have piled up. Unless it's fun to me, I really just don't want to do it. And at the same time, I am taking on one project after another until I feel completely overwhelmed. I somehow manage to get things done. I recognize it as passion, but I also recognize the fact that I allow it to get out of control sometimes, and am getting smarter about how I work and what I decide to take on. Even though I tend to work well under pressure, I am quickly learning that you just can't be in that state of mind at all times, it's just unhealthy. So, there is always that constant battle to find balance. But I think art will always win.”
Irby cannot really say where she will be in five years. She is along for the journey and will take any opportunity that presents itself. “…I'm just thankful to be on this path, and I'm going to follow it where it takes me. There are a lot of things I would like to do. Like, my brain is exploding with ideas. So, I will never run out of ideas. And I have goals. But at the same time, I'm flexible. I will be creating, and I will be curating shows, and I will be exploring. That's all I can say for sure.” She has presented some of her own works in galleries and shows including Damned II and IV, District VII Gallery and Detroit Contemporary, River’s Edge, Funhouse Gallery, Scharolette Chappel and Thirteenth Floor. Irby has also collaborated, “…on a piece with one of my favorite artists, Justin Aerni. That was a huge thrill for me.”
From curating stunning shows to following her passion of photography and documenting her explorations, Diane Irby takes mixed media to a whole new level. She is blurring the lines of traditional art and creating awe inspiring pieces that evoke curiosity, emotion and community.
For more information on Diane's work go to: