Robert Irwin: The Artist

Review: A useful but unsatisfying new documentary tackles the career of Light & Space artist Robert Irwin

This is it.

That’s what I’m hearing from those who have seen Robert Irwin: The Artist. And frankly, I kind of want to feel their despair.

The subject of the hour-long documentary is Robert Irwin — who died in 2009 at the age of 69.

As he aged, so did Irwin. The film makes a compelling case that Irwin’s art changed, from his early, pre-teen days when he drew with markers on paper, to his adult period when he used colored pencils and acrylics, to his work done in the last couple of years of his life.

What makes this documentary particularly valuable is that it’s a non-fiction look at the man. We get to see him in his personal and professional life from his childhood as well as his adult work, in the process revealing some of his life’s struggles.


The film also features interviews with friends and family, all of whom reveal something of his character.

The film opens with a story about a phone call Irwin received from his sister. He told his sister a story to explain why she hadn’t come to see him, which left the sister, who is described as “emotionally fragile” distraught.

It makes me pause to think about how it is a difficult time to be someone’s sister.

The film moves into the rest of the story about Irwin’s childhood, which shows how he was a curious kid, but still had something of a difficult time growing up. He recalls attending his first day of “school” and how the teacher was too old to understand his work. Irwin was forced to skip school and go to the “school” where he was able to learn how to draw.

Of course, you’re probably thinking: a student at a school with so few kids with whom the teacher had a chance to learn? Surely, many educators were not like that at all.

Irwin’s parents’ divorce must have been hard on the young adult. His mother remarried, his father died suddenly, and in a way, Irwin says, things were made worse by a tragedy

Leave a Comment