Albert Irvin is best known for his large abstract paintings full of colour.
Born in Finsbury Park, North London in 1922 to a shopkeeper, Irvin had a normal childhood. At school he developed an interest in art and his other passion, football. He was an avid supporter of Arsenal FC throughout his life.
When war was declared with Germany in 1939, the young Albert Irvin was evacuated to Northamptonshire, a safer place for a young boy than London. It was here that he studied art at the Northampton School of Art between 1940 and 1941. Conscription interrupted his time at art school. He joined the Royal Air Force and trained in Canada as a navigator. Flying bombing missions over Germany with 236 Squadron from 1944 until the end of the war.
When hostilities had ceased and he was demobbed, he continued his art studies back in London at the Goldsmiths College.
Albert Irving was never an overnight success
Albert Irvin certainly didn’t become an overnight success. Like most artists he had to turn his hand to other things to bring in some income. By this time he was married and his wife supported him by doing graphic design work. Irvin took on screenprinting Laura Ashley’s first fabric designs and became a tutor at the Hornsey College of Art.
As an abstract painter, it was difficult to break through and become known. It wasn’t until he was 38 years of age that he had his first solo show and it wasn’t until he was in his 60’s that he found a following and people began to recognise and collect his work. He joked that he was “the oldest up and coming young artist in Britain”
When people began collecting his work, his career took off. In the 1970’s he moved from painting in oils to the more vibrant acrylics. In the 1980’s Irvin moved into screenprinting in association with Advanced Graphics in London. This association proved so rewarding that he won an Arts Council award in 1975 and the Gulbenkian award for printmaking in 1983.
Large Canvases with broad brushstrokes
Albert Irvin liked to paint large canvases with broad brushstrokes and a freedom of expression. His studio was on the second floor of a former Jewish school in Stepney Green. The studio was awash with paint on the floor and ceiling and sometimes Irvin himself was covered head to toe in paint as his energetic and enthusiastic application of paint often went everywhere. A finished painting was often given a name of a street or area around London where he lived and worked all his life.
Albert Irvin was not one to take on commissions preffering people to select a picture from his stock. Throughout his life he only took on four commissions and explaining his reason. He said, “I like painting pictures. If people like them, they buy them from me. That’s it.”
Albert Irvin remained active and painting into hs 90’s and would often be seen taking the tube from his home in South London to his studio. In 1998 he became a member of the Royal Academy and in 2013 was awarded the OBE for services to the visual arts.