Summer Irises
By Gladys McAvoy

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Year
1993
Media
Printmaking
Subject Matter
Still Life and Flowers
Reg. Number
G384
Size
73 x 57 cm

In this image of 'Summer Irises', the artist combines the sharp outlines of the linocut technique together with the softness and texture of Japanese paper to create an image that is very detailed but also very subtle, emerging from or perhaps melting back into the sandy-coloured background. Two strong thick stalks support the mauve, blue and white flowers, fleshy in form but muted in colour. Compositionally there is a strong upward motion, from the cluster of mauve heart-shaped Irises, with their yellowy-white throats, at the centre of the picture, through the bolder blue tinged flowers and the larger white flowers and then on through the elegant slim leaves. In this way the image achieves both depth and height. This upward motion is counterbalanced by the downward pointing finger-like lower leaves, and the stocky stalks rooting the composition to the (unseen) earth. The fine details and shading of the white irises are seen both face on and from the side, furled and unfurled, with their inner (‘standard’) petals and outer petals (‘falls’) carefully picked out, as is the velvety texture of the smaller, darker irises with their delicate veining. Despite this level of detail and the compositional boldness the overall effect is contemplative. A flower traditionally described as ‘showy’ has been rendered almost shy, giving space to consider the complexity of its shapes, colours and forms.

The linocut printmaking technique Gladys uses involves cutting a design into a linoleum surface. This creates a reverse mirror image, of the area to be printed. Ink is applied to the linoleum sheet or block and pressed or rolled on to paper. Using water-based inks and an Inverleith etching press, Gladys prints the lino blocks on to handmade Japanese papers. Japanese papers, or, as they are called in Japanese, 'Washi' (from 'Wa' meaning Japanese and 'chi' meaning paper) are traditionally made from the pulp of the Kozo (paper mulberry), the Mitsumata or Gampi shrub. The special absorbency, strength and texture of Washi help to create unique images. In this work the sense of the texture of the irises created by Gladys through the linocut process is echoed and enhanced by the physical texture of the paper on which the image is printed.

Iris comes from the Greek word for rainbow which is why it came to be associated with a species of plant noted for its wide variety of colours.

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