Interview conducted by Ogden Museum Education Intern, Alanni Martin.
Alanni: What motivated you to become an artist?
Irvin: I’ve always had this creative bone, ever since I was little, I used to just draw. I would get in trouble in school for drawing on stuff. I used to draw on the walls at my house. So I’ve always had an interest in creativity, the creative arts. And for me, growing up in New Orleans on top of that, you know, New Orleans is one of the most creative cities you could possibly grow up in. So all that played a role. And then me going to Xavier [University of Louisiana] that just enhanced it even more. It was little things I would say that just kept motivating me, especially because, you know, us as African Americans, art isn’t a thing that Black people really be with. They be like you wanna be an artist? What you wanna do with that? It’s not really pushed. I’m just thankful that I had the support system; my parents and everything, my professors and friends that kinda pushed me to go into the direction of being an artist.
Alanni: Did you face any challenges in your pursuit of becoming an artist?
Irvin: Most definitely. I feel like if any artist ever says they didn’t face any challenges, they are lying. <laughs> I think the biggest thing for me was trying not to compare myself to other artists. Cause you know, you look up to so many people. All artists have inspiration. You’re trying not to compare yourself to these artists and it’s kind of almost like being a perfectionist. You be hard on yourself because you know what you’re capable of doing and what you wanna create. I had a really big problem of always comparing myself, like why is my art looking like this, why isn’t it coming out like this? That was a big thing to tell myself to calm down. You’re gonna get there. It’s not gonna come overnight. All these guys that you look up to, all these artists, all these great people, they didn’t get it overnight either. I would say externally, me trusting in the process, me practicing and knowing that I’m gonna be able to make the things [that] I wanna make one day. I just gotta trust in the process. Just believe in myself.
“My art is all over the place.…I want it to be as expressive and as vibrant as me and my personality.” – Irvin Washington
Alanni: Do you feel that your work is a reflection of yourself?
Irvin: Most definitely, most definitely. I got a little bit of herbs sprinkled all up in my art. Growing up in New Orleans, being a skater, being around all this, you know, creative people, it definitely played a big role in the art I create. I don’t like to box myself in. Some people be like, “oh, I’m an artist that only makes this.” I make everything. I do all types of stuff. I fish. I skateboard. I like to listen to music. I feel like my art reflects all the various things [that] I like to do. People always try to put me in a box. I like to make my art just as versatile as me. You can’t put my art in a box. My art is all over the place. One day you might see me painting, one day you might see me drawing, one day you might see me doing some graffiti type stuff. I want it to be as expressive and as vibrant as me and my personality.
Alanni: What inspired you to create the portrait photo series: SHINO, QUAZI, and CHUCKEE?
Irvin: Bouncing back off me being a skater, I’ve been in this community, skating about for four years. I’ve met so many different people in the skating community; dads, models, I know an engineer, so many different personalities, so many people. The skate community is this big amalgamation of personalities, culture and so much stuff. And those people are a part of that. There’s a stigma on people that skate. When people see skaters, they automatically think delinquent or runaway or problem child. I feel like people automatically think this way. When I made that series, I just wanted to showcase these different people. It’s not just runaway teens and all this stuff. There are different people of different ages, from all different walks of life, you know. Chuckee, he makes music. My dude, Quazi, he was a poet. My homie Shino, he’s just a skater. That’s why I put their nicknames as the titles cause I want them [the viewer] to see [that] these are people and not just skaters. They’re people at the end of the day.
Alanni: Did you choose the skateboard as a medium for CLAWS specifically because of your skating background?
Irvin: Yeah. Fun fact about skating culture, a lot of the boards and a lot of designs that we see or at least that I’ve seen, kind of plays off of culture, you know, what’s popping at the time. You might see a board that might be inspired by a Kanye West album, who knows. Skating culture is inspired by other cultures and other things that are going [on] around in the world. When I was making that board, my whole thing was New Orleans, but I wanted to really hit the foot of New Orleans people. A lot of times when people do stuff from New Orleans, you see the blue crab or the pelican or fleur de lis. Personally, I like to spice it up a little. If I’m gonna do a crawfish, how can I make that different? How can I make that stand out? I don’t wanna go over the edge, but just something to make people be like, okay, that’s interesting. Like I like that. That’s how I came up with claws. Jaws from the movie. I was like jaws claws. That works. That’s cool. That’s funny. That’ll make somebody stand back and be like, okay, I’m digging this.
Alanni: Is there a certain audience that you hope to reach with your work? Do you have an expectation of how the viewer will interpret your work?
Irvin: I honestly don’t have an intended audience. When I made my skateboards, you could say the audience was the skate community, that’s where I come from. I’ve been skating [for] about four years now. So [my work] is trying to show appreciation to them. I don’t have an intended audience at all. It could be the gardener down the street, the mailman, if they see my art, they can interpret however they want to. That’s what I like about art. I make things for people to interpret. I like to see different interpretations. People tell me stuff that I wasn’t even thinking. I’m like, I wasn’t even thinking that deep, but you pulled that from me. So that’s cool. Whoever takes interest in my art, that’s fine with me. It could be the little toddler at daycare. It could be the old lady at the library. I have no intended audience for real. I just want people to look and enjoy some art, you know?
Alanni: How would you describe your work to someone who has little knowledge of the art world?
Irvin: Fun, expressive. I don’t know if creative would count. Obviously, it’s gonna be creative, it’s art. But when I make my art, I try to not take it seriously. There’s something that a skater once told me, he was like, once you start taking skating seriously, you’re not gonna have fun anymore. That could go with any hobby. People always say that once you make a job out of a hobby or once you make a career out of a hobby, it is not gonna be as fun because that’s your way you gonna pay your bills. So even though I’m an artist, and I [have] plans on taking over the world with my art, I definitely want people to just have fun. I might get an interesting idea or I might see a picture or something. I’m like, I wanna try something like that or I wanna create something like that. I’m just not that deep.
“I want people to look at my work and be like, nothing defines you. You are the only person that defines you.” – Irvin Washington
Alanni: What is the legacy that you would like to leave behind?
Irvin: That’s a good one. You got it with that one. So when I say I wanna take over the world, I wanna inspire [and] educate. Money comes and goes, so I don’t worry about that. I want people to see, oh, this man is a photographer, but he also skates and paints. I want people to see [that] you could do whatever you want. You don’t have to have one set medium that you do. If you wanna be a painter and an illustrator and a graphic designer, you could do all that. Cause sometimes people feel like if you paint, you gotta only paint. Or if you a fashion designer, you only gotta make clothes. I want people to see that you can excel at multiple careers and [artwork] in multiple media. I wanna be an inspiration. I want people to look at my work and be like, nothing defines you. You are the only person that defines you.