Interview: Popping in with pop-culture artist David Irvine

Artist David Irvine, aka The Gnarled Branch (no relation to us at TuffGnarl!), works in many mediums and themes, has shown in galleries all over and has a huge on-line presence. But as I am an unabashed fan of pop-culture, his handcrafted “upcycling” of tossed off paintings particularly caught my eye one night and I found myself in that infamous rabbit-hole of clicking images. Amazed and intrigued, I reached out to David and, after a few genuinely friendly exchanges, he graciously decided to take time off of his busy schedule to answer some questions.

Copyright: David Irivne
Copyright: David Irivne First off, for those who haven’t had the luck to see your pop-culture inspired pieces, can you give us a brief description of what it is?
David Irvine: The whole ongoing series revolves around upcycling thrift art paintings (most of which are prints, odd original and anonymous paint by numbers) which I bought at thrift shops, yard sales or even salvaged. Any damage is carefully touched up and then I add in my own visions or scenarios into the piece. Original paintings are researched to make certain they are of no particular value. Most works are in bad shape and destined for landfill.

How did you first end up doing these?
As a struggling artist, I tried to come up with ways to save money. I would visit yard sales or thrift shops to buy the frames or paint over an existing painting with my own work. As well as I hate seeing waste. If I saw a half decent frame or painting on the curb, I would always pick it up and fix it up to brand new.

Copyright: David Irvine
Copyright: David Irvine

When did you know you had something special?
One particular time there was a seascape painting and I had for some strange reason a vision of two reapers playing with a beach ball. I painted them in and posted a photo online. There was a tremendous response and it sold right away — I knew I was onto something.

How soon did you start to get a response from people? 
I did more soon after and the response kept getting bigger and better. It was a no-brainer to continue it as a series.

Now that they have become a “series” do you seek out thrift painting with a certain character or image already in mind, or does the character come after you stumble upon a painting?
When I’m on the hunt for thrift art, I prefer prints or lithos compared to original works. I will work on originals but most of those are mass produced landscapes that have no real monetary value.

Copyright David Irvine
Copyright: David Irvine

What’s the actual “physical” process like? (Like do you set a mood, does the urge to paint them come at a moment or do you plan ahead, etc.)
There are times when I first see a candidate to work on and the vision is immediate. Hits like a bomb in my head. Others I know they will work out to be something, but the connection of an idea to the work is much slower.

As far as process goes, I will do a few rough sketches to determine the composition, the concept, etc., and then a more refined drawing with notes. I’ll gather any reference material if needed and then proceed to rough out on the thrift art with pencil and develop with various layers of light painting.

Copyright David Irvine
Copyright: David Irvine

What’s your opinion on pop culture versus “high art?” Is there still a line there?
I think the line between pop art and high art is becoming more blurred. There are many pop artists or low brow artists that achieve remarkably high art results…Todd Schorr, Mark Ryden or Wayne White. High art has a snooty sound, perhaps a touch boring as well. Obviously there are remarkable and inspiring high art works, but I think pop art nowadays is being given the respect it deserves.

What’s your favorite piece of yours?
It’s difficult to say which piece is my favorite, but the one that comes to mind is the second Terror on the High Seas featuring yellow rubber ducks and tall ships. Very pleased how that turned out and the reactions it still gets…

Copyright David Irvine
Copyright: David Irvine

What are some of your favorite pop-culture images (ones you have done and ones you hope to do)?
My favorite pop art images? I’ve always enjoyed nostalgia themes…toys, movies, products….they capture the viewer’s eye as well as fond memories. The paintings generate discussion. Recently as well I am drawn towards an almost Dada approach of painting in something that has no sense in being in the painting. A human organ, oversized piece of meat, something that is just ridiculous but rendered well and given as much care to detail as any prior piece. I like leaving the viewer with a sense of confusion.

Copyright David Irivne
Copyright: David Irivne

What art has inspired you?
I get inspiration from many genres of art, whether it be contemporary works you’d see in Juxtapoz magazine or a Monet. You have to have an open mind I think to allow the creative process to work at its best.

How has the internet changed the art world for you personally?
The internet has been invaluable to my business. It shrunk the globe to a level that having collectors or buyers in distant countries is no longer a dream but a reality. I truly believe it has made fine art more accessible to the public, as viewing works online is much less daunting to some then going to an actual gallery.

Copyright David Irvine
Copyright: David Irvine

How long do you plan to keep these going?
This entire redirected thrift art series I will continue for many years. It’s not the only type of art I do, but certainly has become the most fun and popular.

Check out more of his work at the following links:

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Manny Gomez

Creative at Wizard Army
Manny Gomez is a freelance writer based out of Florida's west coast. He obsessively reads interviews, binge watches TV shows, loves comics, movies, indie rock, hip-hop, stand-up comedy, and detective novels. His best friend is a dog.

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