Chasing Smoke: Irby Pace's Latest Project Pops With Clouds of Ephemeral Color

"Red Pop" by Irby Pace
"We've got about five minutes, then we gotta bail," says photographer Irby Pace, who's looking over his shoulder as he plans the escape. A white patrol truck just passed by, again.

This spot where he's shooting isn't public property. It's an open-air industrial filling site attached to an old grain elevator, and it's seen better days. Built in the 1940s, this structure and the nearby train worked to transfer crops into and out of Fort Worth. Today disjointed piping segments cling to the exterior walls. Nests of stiff clothing and broken glass lie piled beneath the encroaching hackberries, evidence of layover visits from other less artful occupants. The building's function has evolved too: It now serves as a holding pen for fracking sand which will eventually make its way to drilling areas like Odessa, Irby Pace's West Texas hometown.

He's moving faster since spotting that patrolman, weaving a pattern of fishing lines around concrete support beams. Pace glances back at the road, rips a swath of tape with his teeth and wraps it around a smoke bomb, securing the canister into his freshly spun web.

"Average police response is five to 10 minutes," he says. Then, he lights the fuse.

Blue smoke kicks out, first in a spurt followed by hissing. Soon it billows, wafting out of frame. Then it churns back on itself, entering diffusional chaos. The wind's picked up, and the trail of gaseous pigment lifts higher, doubling as a brilliant smoke signal of our visit. Pace stands at his camera, cautiously pressing the shutter until the fuming device rattles out its death snap. Glancing through his shots, Pace's disappointment is apparent. We hop into the car and move on.


This is Pop!, a new body of work that Pace has developed to mutate and punctuate traditional landscape photography. I first encountered it a year ago, when the Denton-based artist and teacher displayed five pieces at 500X. In those early images the colored smoke was the sole subject of each picture's narrative, surrounded by otherwise lonesome horizons, like the opening image of this story. As he's refined his process Pace has grown bolder, unleashing his explosive protagonist into more complicated settings.

The juxtaposition is jarring. Lush, powerful clouds gather and float through unpreserved architecture, causing a counterbalance of tone, angle, shape and color. Galleri Urbane's owner and director Ree Willaford also saw Pop! early on, during Pace's first show. She recognized the allure of those mischievous prints and decided they deserved fine art representation. Pop! is now available exclusively through her Monitor Street gallery.

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