As with all of Irwin’s art, the light works use deceptively simple materials to produce a complex effect. In contrast to the work of Dan Flavin, with which they are sometimes compared, Irwin utilizes only white fluorescent tubes that he overlays with arrangements of colored gel sheets. The same material used in the theater to give stage-lights a tonal range, the gels exist in hundreds of colors. Irwin then “blends” them further by sometimes layering multiple colored gels on top of one fluorescent tube, as if mixing paint. When the light is on, one color might show; when it is off, an entirely different tone is visible, such that each work exists in multiple states when off or on. In addition, bands of tape zip down the front of most tubes, and the sides of a handful of light fixtures are painted in gray or black, which adds an alternating sense of shallowness and recession to the work’s overall presence. Over the years, the artist has developed a sensitivity to how each gel changes the bulb’s luminosity, and how different colors shift in relation to others, in order to create as contingent and dimensional a viewing experience as possible.
The distinctive titles of the works often refer to literature and music and include plays on words. Their symmetrical arrangements, moreover, can evoke an open book, or the repeating motifs of a musical composition. The title of Faust (2015) brings directly to mind the classic German legend of Dr. Faust and his bargain with the devil, captured famously in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play (and in the opera by Charles Gounod). In Mint Condition (2015), a palette of cool greens and opaque gold offers a visual pun on the concept of being fresh and new. And though one might see a reference to the tropics in the pale greens and bright yellows of Oasis (2015), ultimately any associations are dependent upon the individual viewer’s understanding. Instead, what interests the artist most is the play of color and varied tonalities that each light work acquires in different environments, and at different times of day.
Finally, Irwin’s Untitled (2018) panels are from a series of black paintings that the artist has produced in the last few years. Meant to be installed in pairs, they are fabricated from honeycomb aluminum (a material used in aerospace, among other industries) and polyester primer, which is tinted with a specially devised pigment nicknamed 'Irwin Black'. This gives the paintings their deep, smoky tone and adds to their intense reflectivity. Hanging two black squares together sets up an immediate relationship between them, making the viewer aware of the paintings’ spatial dynamics and of their own processes of perception as they catch reflections of themselves, the room, and Irwin’s light works installed nearby.