In a little studio in Madison, Wis., Drazen Dupor carries on a tradition that flourished in the sixth century—the art of Byzantine iconography.
The techniques of Byzantine iconography differ from that of realistic art.
Dupor explained: “In a realist painting, look at my face, light is coming from this corner, all of here is light, and all of here is shadow. Iconography doesn’t have that. Light comes from the middle because it is holy. It comes from inside the portrait.”
Iconography deals wholly in religious art. Dupor pointed to a picture of Apostle Luke, the patron saint of icons, painting an icon on a wooden board. St. Luke is said to have created the first icon on the dining table of Jesus’s home.
St. Luke first developed the style of hand-painted iconography, but it took six centuries before iconography spread to Western Europe. At that time, the Byzantine Empire banned iconography, and artists left in search of work elsewhere.
Dupor described the ancient Christian belief regarding artists: “They never sign their work. … Everything is made from the Holy Spirit.” The artist is only a helper. He said that the iconographers of a thousand years ago, the good ones, are unknown.
The light and dark colors are never mixed in iconography, and the lines are very precise, he said.
Iva, Dupor’s student, said that drawing the lines was the most difficult part of this kind of painting. “You have to be very steady.”
When Dupor was a young boy, he looked at the paintings in churches and thought that they were so simple. He found that trying to duplicate those ancient works, however, was anything but easy.
If a student was good at mixing colors and painting lines, “a couple centuries ago, they would say a prayer in the church for the new iconographer …,” Dupor said The prayer would ask for the Holy Spirit to enter the vessel, the student, for a life devoted to painting icons.
The artists did not consider themselves “big,” Dupor reiterated, but instead saw themselves only as helpers.
Painting icons was a much more demanding process in the past: “For me, it is easy to be an artist because I can go in my car and go to an art shop, and it’s full of everything. I buy brushes, paint, and everything.
“One thousand years ago, to make good artwork, you need[ed] to first make powder paint, brushes, gold leaf, and everything.” Everything was handmade because there was no such thing as an art shop.
Artists would first collect materials for the colors in their paints and grind the material into a powder.
Dupor touched the middle part of a brush, the part that binds the bristles to the handle, and said, “This is what a brush looked like 1,000 years ago.”
Brushes were made from the feathers of big birds—geese and eagles. “Many times, iconographers would give the kids from the village a little money to go around and collect the feathers,” Dupor explained.
Teacher to Student
Iconography was passed down through lineages from the early Byzantine Empire.
“All iconographers, throughout the centuries, generation after generation, look for somebody young who is talented to teach,” Dupor said. He looked at his student and chuckled. “Iva, in the future will teach somebody who isn’t born yet.”
Churches were the only place to find artists; they didn’t have schools.
Dupor chanced upon an iconography school in Greece. He walked down some stairs and saw students painting. “Everyone was painting in gold leaf, very pretty paintings.”
“This is exactly what I need,” he said and told the teacher he would like to learn.
“Welcome,” the teacher told Dupor.
Iva, said she liked the style of iconography. She said her own work was a lot freer: “Here there’s so much more line work, very restricted. It’s a good exercise. The more you know, the richer you are.”
She said she makes art for herself and whoever enjoys it.
According to Dupor, a teacher instructs a student for five years. “After that, a student is ready to paint churches.”
“After that, the student and teacher always remain in contact,” Iva said.
The highest goal for an artist “is for the student to surpass the teacher and likewise into the future,” Dupor said.
Drazen Dupor was born in Gracac, Yugoslavia (now Croatia), in 1966. He was raised and educated in Knin, where he started his career as an artist, and in 1987 he became a member of the “Klik” Artist Association there. He studied the art of icon painting in Thessalonica, Greece, at the K.N. Georgiadis School of Art under the supervision of Zlatko Bomestar. Over the last two decades, he has been creating works in his own Art Studios in Tessalonica and since 2003, in Madison, Wis.
For more information, visit http://www.duporikone.com
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