Growing up in Brooklyn and Long Island, Joe Byrne lived near chaotic docklands and bleak industrial parks. His astonishing new body of work draws on an early exposure to intricate winches, hydraulic pistons, and other muscular machines.
Most of Byrne’s realistic pieces zero in on a moving part: a latch, piston or gear. With technical precision Byrne conveys the tension of nuts and bolts on an I-beam, the force of hydraulic pistons, and the balletic motion of swing levers on a steel door. So lifelike is the image that you can practically feel the heat reflecting off the paint surface, or hear the squeal of a corroded hinge, that this girder is holding up a bridge or that this truck is idling outside your window. While these pictures capture the physical beauty of steel, they convey the conceptual beauty of strength, pure and simple.
Some of these machines have done hard work. Their rust, holes, scrapes, and gouges prove it. Given the planar surfaces, hard shadows, and straight lines, these images of
Big Metal could hardly be called “organic.” Byrne’s paintings imply a human presence through ingenious engineering and English instructions: “open ... seal ... unlatch to close door.” Simply put, these machines are projections of the men who designed, built and used them. These positive images celebrate industrial tools as metal muscle.
Byrne sums up his philosophy of abstracted realism by saying “instead of painting the whole scene, I’m much more interested in editing it down to the minimum. To me it’s the isolation of a part that speaks to a whole.”