Jacksonville artist to watch: Niris

by Anna Rabhan
Artist Nancy Iris, whose professional name is Niris, has done, seen and experienced a huge chunk of the human adventure, and her art reflects that diversity. “I live at the edge of the village,” she says. But from what anyone who gets to know her can tell, she is the village.
Before she became a professional artist, Niris was a caterer, a private chef and the CFO of a clothing manufacturer. The creative nature of all of these occupations, and even her original one in oral surgery, is not lost on her. “I knew I could have been really good at [dentistry] and grinding the bones … that was probably the precursor to my being a sculptor.”
Twenty-two years ago, this single mother went out for a loaf of bread and suffered a freak accident. The resulting traumatic brain injury and the cascading effects of multiple illnesses and surgeries left her disabled and virtually bedridden for years. “It’s not my nature to be sick or to not accomplish,” Niris says, “so I started hauling myself to art classes in an attempt to stay happy, accomplish something, learn something new… because I couldn’t go back to work.” Her very first class was on painting silk scarves. “I touched that dye on that silk and in that minute… my whole life changed.”
Since then, Niris has been a student and teacher of art and, as a member of the American Society of Interior Designers, a design consultant. In 2005, she left L.A. for Jacksonville to be closer to her son and to open Niris Studio™. “It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done business-wise.” Her sumptuous brochure, website (www.nirisstudio.com) and YouTube videos (www.tiny.cc/NirisVideo1 and www.tiny.cc/NirisVideo2) are part of the results of her hard marketing work.
Niris specializes in an astounding array of media: oil, silk, acrylic, watercolor, mixed media, stone, wood and more. “I’m a taskmaster to myself… I decided to pick one medium at a time and get really good at that before I was allowed to go to the next thing.” One of her signature types of work is what she calls an “extreme portrait” – a portrait of the subject’s personality. “I thought, ‘What would I really have to do to make a difference in portraiture?’… And I realized that you really have to paint the personality and the spirit of the person because… the only thing that gives us our features is this little bit of stuff slapped right on the front.” In order to capture the essence of a person, she gets to know the client, sitting and talking with him, observes his mood and mannerisms, and then paints, “from the inside out.”
“I’ve never had artist’s block for a moment in my life,” Niris says. She plans to continue painting both extreme and traditional portraits. She will also continue to work on You Gotta Have Ballz, her series of paintings that uses the sphere as a central element, and on her series of cypress knee sculptures called The Seers. Carving stone bookends is something Niris has done in the past, and she would like to do a new series of those as well.