The Iris Troiana of Albrecht Dürer was the inspiration for this ballpoint pen drawing. The artist intent is perhaps best expressed in his own words – in defining his main aim and objectives as an artist; and as captured in his masterly crafted drawings and paintings. His creative endeavours and theories on proportion are well documented and were written towards the end of his life (1528) and underscore the blueprint for studies on the human figure and nature itself.
Dürer's advice is documented as such; “ Life in nature makes us recognize the truth of these things, so look at it diligently, follow it, and do not turn away from nature to your own thoughts…. For, verily, art is embedded in nature; whoever can draw her out, has her….” Speis der Malerknaben (Food for Young painters), Salus 1513.
His nature studies are so incredibly true-to-life and full of vitality that they can be see as a pure translation of reality into the medium of drawing and painting. They are more than this – they express Dürer’s constant determination to depict nature as ‘life’ and a ‘divine creation’ (Salley, V. Nature’s Artist, Prestel).
The most important aspect however is that no woodcut engravers, printers or apprentices ever came between Durer and the viewer. He did the work all himself. Although there are much better works to illustrate his true craftsmanship and skills and more remarkable nature studies to support his theories on drawing and painting, it is his Iris Troiana that drew my inspiration for obvious reasons.
The iris is one of the most symbolically laden images of all time. It is perhaps the painting of Georgia O’Keeffe that is most recognisable of all. Her work is acknowledged for its feminist overtones. Painted in the nineteen twenties during which time woman were gaining independence and more freedom (rights).
The black iris depicted in O’Keeffe’s work (which in reality would be deep purple or blue) is sometimes used as a symbol of royalty (Green 1). The upper petals in O’Keeffe’s painting are a shade of pale lavender while the lower petals are a very deep purple, which appears as black. The center of the flower is a small black hole surrounded by a slightly lighter purple and opens into one of the lower petals which is drawn in slightly more detail than the others. It is possible to see one singular vein running from the heart of the flower outwards. There is not much space in the painting that is not used by the flower, but the existing backdrop is very neutral. The flower seems to blend into the background around the edges. (Halli J) Frueh, Joanna. "The Body Through Women's Eyes." Challenging Modernism: The Facets of Feminist Art. 190-207. PDF file.
The work became an inspiration for many feminist artists and in particular Judy Chicago. She earned her right as the most significant and the final place setting in Chicago’s The Dinner Party.
“In the 1970s, feminist artists, wanting to reclaim the female body for women, asserted women’s ability to create their own aesthetic pleasures by representing women’s bodies… The resulting positive images of the female body are a critical part of feminist aesthetics of the 1970s” (Frueh 190). This movement of reclaiming women’s bodies explains why O’Keeffe’s work is interpreted heavily through feminist lenses. (cited at woman art and culture).
According to an Illustrated encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, the IRIS is The Power of light; hope; often depicted as the FLEUR-DE-LIS and shares its symbolism with that of the Lily (q.v.). Chinese: Grace, affection; beauty in solitude. Christian; as the lily it is the flower of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven, and the Immaculate Conception. As the ‘sword lily’ it depicts the sorrow of the Virgin. Egyptian: Power. Greek; The symbol of Iris, the feminine messenger of the gods and the psychopomp.
I was particularly drawn to the Dürer’s rendition of the Iris because of its sculptural qualities. In this particular work the iris is stylised, each element is modelled and although the shapes are true-to-life rendition, his modelling of the forms and use of colour hues are stylised. The ballpoint pen drawing pays homage to Durer’s masterful skills as an artist in all practices including, a drafts person, artisan, engraver, printer, painter and most importantly, for the purpose of this blog entry, his drawing capabilities. I will explain my intent and concept in a follow-up blog entry.