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Where Are They Now? WHITNEY IRVIN



Whitney Irvin graduated with the Swainsboro High School Class of 1999. She attended East Georgia State College (EGSC) as a dual enrollment student during her senior year of high school. She spent another year after high school graduation at East Georgia State College before transferring to the University of Georgia (UGA). There she graduated in 2005 with concentration in Ceramics. She went on to attend Mills College with a teaching scholarship, in Oakland, Calif., where she graduated in 2000 with an MFA concentration in photography and ceramics.


Vann and Patsy Irvin of Adrian, Ga. are Whitney’s parents. Her dad is a veteran of the Army Reserve and a retired registered nurse. According to Whitney her mother is “a very artistic and crafty homemaker.”


Whitney’s husband is photographer William Pruyn. They met in Athens just before graduation through mutual friends of the Burlesque Group. Together they claim Tiny Giny (the Cat) as their beautiful baby where they currently live in Russian River Valley, California.


After UGA the couple spent time living in Brooklyn, NY until Whitney decided to pursue a graduate degree. A Mills College Scholarship brought her to Oakland where she attended and taught classes at Mills while working full-time at a Bay Area restaurant. The San Francisco Bay Area has always been appealing to her with its diversity, cultural and artistic opportunities, as well as access to some of the country's most beautiful natural wonders.


After graduation from Mills and a couple of years in the Bay Area, Bill and Whitney returned to Brooklyn, NY where Bill apprenticed with a fashion photographer. Realizing that the Bay Area had become home, they returned to San Francisco after his apprenticeship was over. Combined, they have lived in the Bay Area for the majority of the last 16 years.


According to Whitney, “Being far away from my family has had its challenges but I visit a few times a year and my folks have had many adventures West since I moved to California. In our off hours, we spend our time traveling, building, gardening, cooking, and cruising around wine country in our '65 beetle or sailing in the San Francisco Bay.”


She is studio manager and head fabricator for Ron Nagle who for the last 60+ years has been making small-scale abstract sculptures found in NYC, Los Angeles and London. She studied Ron's work while a student at UGA. Later she became his teaching assistant during graduate school. Upon returning to Oakland, for the second time, Whitney called to check in and visit. He hired her over coffee and she’s been working with him ever since.


In addition to working with Ron, Whitney has started a business in conjunction with her husband's photography company. There she found joy collaborating with him, combining her love of sculpture, design and cooking “um, hello, I'm Southern” into a career of food and photo styling.


The teachers who inspired her were Dabney Edenfield, her Swainsboro High School art teacher. Whitney says, “She gave me the foundation to trust my intuition and lean into my creative nature.” Another inspiration to her art was Neil Kalmanson, for “his support during my years at EGSC. He nurtured my creativity and kept my sometimes overly confident nature in check.” At UGA, Ted Saupe was “always a calm sounding board when I needed it most.” Nancy and Marvin Baker gave her the courage, love and experiences to live a life less traveled by. Jacquie and Alan Brasher were, “not just mentors, but friends that always let me know there was more out there.” And Ron Nagle gave her the mountain of knowledge and experience she has today.


Whitney has spent time traveling across the country. Moving across coasts three times and driving each time allowed her to visit the majority of the US. She loves spending time in Maine and is always up for a visit to NYC. Her work has taken her to places in NYC, Los Angeles, Europe and the UK. She has explored Germany, England, Scotland, Brussels, Spain, France, Austria, Hungary, and Holland while installing art shows, meeting with art curators, collectors and other interesting people, living like a local, exploring museums, grocery stores, restaurants, cafes, gardens, and amazing landscapes.


She learned during her travels that the world isn't that big or scary. “I feel like I have always pushed myself outside of my limits, explored as much as I have had the means to explore, and been open to experience new things. My dad and I have never met a stranger so I've had the privilege to talk to so many on my travels.”


Even though Whitney stops short of calling any artists her favorites, the top three she has been looking at lately and revisiting are:

1. Adolph Gottlieb—An American abstract expressionist painter, a contemporary of Mark Rothko (another favorite of mine). For me his work causes a pure visceral reaction to color. It feels wonderful and chaotic.

2. Jim Goldberg– He is an American photographer, who's subject matter has always been about those on the fringe of mainstream culture. “Rich and Poor” is one of my favorite collections of photographs. From 1977 to 1985 he photographed wealthy people and he photographed people in poverty. The collection becomes an amazing collaboration with Mr. Goldberg when he asks the subjects to comment on the portrait he took of them.

3. Njideka Akunyili Crosby—She is a Nigerian born, Yale-educated artist, living and working in L.A. At first glance I was drawn to the color and texture of the paintings woven into intimate scenes. She uses a collage technique throughout her paintings that I find stunning. The essay from her show, “I refuse to be Invisible," discusses how she was "shocked that Westerners, especially Americans lack a basic knowledge about other parts of the world" and that culture can be so grossly misinterpreted when it is only seen through one lens. Her dedication to "the power of the arts to illuminate an unfamiliar world" is what keeps me engaged with her work. She "gives a voice and a form to the ordinary and paradoxically, unfamiliar world of a transplanted Nigerian Woman in America.

Whitney’s advice to young artists is to realize that “there are struggles and diversions” as with any path. She says, “Being an aspiring artist is within reach but not without a lot of work. A lot of art making is problem-solving, translating ideas into something tangible; it takes practice and persistence. Inform your voice and consume as much as you can visually, artistically, musically, whatever it takes to inspire you. Learn as many skills and processes as possible so that your vision may be realized. The world needs creative and abstract thinkers. A foundation in the Arts can be extremely beneficial in many careers.”

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