Blog: Art in Architecture

An Interview with the developer, Jim Irwin

Q: Where did your interest in art come from?

A: My interest in art really began with my mother, who is an artist herself. When I was eight years old, my mother purchased a painting and she had an opportunity to meet the artist. During their conversation, the artist shared that her representative had just moved, and she was stressed because she didn’t know what she was going to do. My mom asked the very innocent question, “What is an art representative?” And after hearing the explanation, said, “well, I think I can do that.” And that was the auspicious beginning of Anne Irwin Fine Art, which has now been in business for over 30 years and is one of the most well respected galleries in Atlanta. Much of my childhood was spent riding in the back of my mom’s Buick station wagon (with the peeling wood vinyl siding) helping Mom install art in homes around Atlanta. She would pay me a nickel for every hanger that I put on the back of a painting, and that was how I earned my allowance.

In addition to her gallery, my mom is a gifted calligrapher and loved to hand-marble paper. One of my earliest memories is of the smell of aluminum sulphate she used with the paper while I was watching Mr. Rogers in the room nearby. As I think about these memories, I realize that I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that I’ve been surrounded by art from as early as I can remember.

Later in high school and college, I worked in the gallery helping mom set up new shows each month and I was the perennial bartender for the opening parties—I bet I have poured more white wine in plastic cups than just about anyone in the city. Before those shows, before anyone arrived, I always loved to walk around the gallery to try to pick my favorite pieces.


Q: What elements or artists inspire you today?

A: Growing up around a gallery, I was naturally exposed to a wide variety of genres. There were some that I was naturally drawn to more than others, but what I learned to observe was when an artist had mastered his or her particular technique. My mom would work with the same artists for years and I could watch how their work would change and refine over time. I learned that for someone to become a good artist, it takes tremendous discipline and introspection (and even a bit of suffering), but that process inevitably comes out on the canvas. In one instance, I recall an artist who began as a figurative painter who completely morphed into an abstract artist. His work is now one of the best selling in the gallery!

Because of this experience, I find myself gravitating toward different styles of art in different seasons of my own life. But I am always drawn to an artist that has perfected his or her craft in a way that communicates a singular vision regardless of what cultural events are taking place at the time. When this happens, I believe that art can become timeless. I also appreciate artists that work in large scale. Anish Kapoor is an artist I really love. If you study his work (not only the well-known pieces such as The Bean in Chicago) you will observe how he integrates nature with elements that are surprising, unexpected, and often times huge and colorful. They add amazement to whatever is going on. A local Atlanta artist that I find incredibly relevant is Tristan Al-Hadad.

Mid-century artists and architects played a major role in the inspiration behind 725 Ponce. Carlo Scarpa is one that, in his very subtle and totally unexpected use of concrete, created spaces that are quite amazing—also important is that his buildings age well over decades. Painters such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Jasper Johns are ones that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It’s abundantly clear when an artist has mastered his or her medium, whether it involves splattering paint on a canvas or installing an enormous sculpture, they are creating work that fits in context with its time and space. And when someone encounters their work for the first time, inevitably there is a moment of surprise and delight. That’s my goal for 725 Ponce. When someone experiences the space, it should surprise the mind and delight the eye…..This, I believe, is what will allow the building to stand the test of time.


Q: How do you approach art in your projects?

A: I think in the back of my mind there is always a desire to treat the projects that we work on as compositions. We’re always asking the question: how can we create a cohesive experience, a feeling, whenever a person walks through the property? That’s why it is so exciting to work  along the BeltLine. It’s an opportunity to interact with literally millions of people who are out of their cars and on their feet, on bikes, who are walking — which by definition– means that they’re not focused on the road, but they are actually looking around. They’re on the BeltLine for exercise or to enjoy nature and interact with what’s around them. It’s really fulfilling to dream up ways to add to their experience in interesting and delightful ways. It reminds me of a Pablo Picasso quote that my mom often uses that conveys the importance of art: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Also, it’s important to acknowledge that this isn’t just a quaint idea. Savvy business owners understand that the spaces they inhabit have a direct impact on the culture of their organization and ultimately their bottom-line as they seek to recruit & retain top-talent and distinguish themselves in highly competitive marketplaces. Young professionals have an innate radar for places and experiences that have been commoditized. They don’t want to live pre-packaged lives and therefore, gravitate towards places that are unique and sincere. This is ultimately the goal for 725 Ponce and all the projects that we work on.