Born in Bellingham, Washington, on August 25, 1930
Died in San Francisco, California, on May 17, 2009
American artist David Ireland is admired internationally for a diverse body of work concerned with the beauty inherent in everyday things and the making of art as a part of daily life. His idiosyncratic, hybrid practice blends sculpture, architecture, painting, and performance, and often draws on ordinary materials such as dirt, concrete, wood, or wire that he collected over time.
“You can’t make art by making art” has become one of Ireland’s best-known sayings and it’s often used to summarize the philosophy that guided his Zen-like, interdisciplinary practice. Concerned with formal and material invention and in happenings outside the sphere of marketable art, his work explores complex questions of creativity, the role of the artist, and the meaning of art.
Ireland’s best-known work is his house at 500 Capp Street in San Francisco, which served simultaneously as his environmental artwork, social sculpture, and residence for 30 years. It embodies his visual language and exists as both a container for his art and an artwork in its own right.
Ireland boldly began his full-time art career late in life after taking a circuitous route to his calling. In the two decades between his completion of a Bachelor of Applied Art degree from California College of the Arts (now California College of the Arts) in 1953 and finishing his graduate work at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1974, he followed a winding path through military service, marriage, fatherhood, insurance sales, carpentry, and extensive world travels in Asia and East Africa as a safari guide and importer of artifacts.
In 1975, after a yearlong post-graduation sojourn in New York, Ireland returned to San Francisco where he quickly became an integral member of the Bay Area Conceptualist movement —which included living and late peers such as Terry Fox, Howard Fried, Paul Kos, Tony Labat, Tom Marioni, and Jim Melchert—and helped establish San Francisco as an important center for conceptual art activity, then flourishing throughout the US and globally.
Ireland’s work has been presented in more than forty solo exhibitions at venues including the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. In 2004, the Oakland Museum of California organized the first full-scale traveling retrospective of his work, which included key pieces related to 500 Capp Street. His work is held in major museum collections worldwide.
Photo by Elisa Cicinelli