So, "who makes icons anymore?" you ask. "Icons--those relics of antiquity? I thought monks made them in deserts...thousands of miles and ages away!?" Well, sort of. But not only! The final stop in the Madison area was a storefront workshop on an unassuming strip of industrial streets, somewhere on the outskirts of the city. And it was the curious signs that read "Icon" and "Gallery" that brought me to pull my car over and knock on the door of this establishment. Figuring that I'd surely find a tourist shop selling icons, I didn't think much about what was behind these doors. But I need to continue to remind myself that "every place and every thing has a story." And so, when a soft-spoken, spectacled man, with a heavy and charming Balkan accent greeted me, I knew that I was in for an interesting treat!
Dupor Drazen (or, Drazen Dupor--depending on how you read his business card) is, according to a Madison magazine, The Daily Page (Oct. 1, 2008) by Amelia Cook "an iconographer, a painter of religious images in the tradition of Eastern Christianity. Using deep color and precise lines, his images of Christ, angels, and the saints transcend this world and stir souls. Born in Gracac, Croatia, Dupor paints in the ancient Byzantine style (think incense-filled basilica) and his work is displayed in churches, galleries, and homes worldwide." When I first spoke with Dupor, he told me that he was from "Yugoslavia" and that he'd studied for some time in Greece, so he also spoke Greek. But I could not muster anything of the modern, Attic, or Koine that would even remotely allow us to communicate in such a way. Dupor was a very kind and friendly host, showing me all of his works and the process by which he completed his works of art. (Above you can see him in the first two images).
Drazen Dupor's Gallery:
As it was winter, when I visited his gallery, it was very cold. Inside the gallery and workshop itself it was chilly. Though, when he led me into this back room, where he did his sketching and painting, he had a little heater, which generated an ample cloud of warmth, and afforded a more comfortable environment for working on his projects and generating good conversation. As you can see, he draws many of his icons in first by pencil, then paints in over the pencil lines.
Admittedly, I found this work very attractive. I'd known some folks who'd done similar iconography, when I lived in Jerusalem. Specifically, there was a group of young Armenian novitiates, young priests in training, whom I was friends with. They'd once told me of how they'd spend their spare hours working on icons, but then stressing them to look older, even antiquated, and then sell their crafty wares to unsuspecting tourists! Back here in Chicago, this past winter, I was given the fine gift of "icon making lessons" by my lovely wife, which I attended for a few weeks. Of course, this is a dedicated craft, an art even, that takes a great deal of time and patience.
Looking toward the central themes of iconography, we must consider the focal text of this artistic and spiritual endeavor: the Bible. And for our good friend Dupor Drazen, it was the King James Version of the Bible, specifically. I suppose, there must be an old saying like "if it gives you inspiration, and doesn't hurt anyone --use it." And so, this lone and solitary book was perhaps the most prominent feature of this workshop: solid, hefty, regal, solemn black and white cover, with clear indications of use. In some way, just looking at this brickish book of God gave the whole room a sense of gravity, seriousness, and power. These images were here, because this artist sat around, perhaps sipping some warm tea on a bitterly cold day, flipping through the pages of scripture and thinking up the creative notions of Biblical prophecy in images as old as stone and dirt and air. Well, not quite. But old enough to emote the gravitas of monastic sublimity and spiritual ecstasy in art.
Above, one can see some work tables in the front room of the Icon Shop. Below are images painted on flat blocks of wood.
Many of the artist's images were displayed on tables in the entry-way. Below is the sign that got my attention and made me swing over and park the car. Who wouldn't be curious about a place like this!? (Okay, don't answer that.)
Once again, it is with these simple, out-of-the-way discoveries, that one finds some of the greatest treasures in the world. Icons are not exactly things you can pick up at your local corner store. And they don't seem to be all that typical in the daily workings of our artistic culture. But they are there, somewhere. I spoke of saints in a recent piece, and come back to that theme here. Saints often come on the edges, the fringes, and margins of society. It was emblematic that Drazen Dupor was engaged in this spiritual activity on the outskirts (or what appeared to be the outskirts) of town, on a quiet, low-key strip of road, in an unassuming location. An artist performing his craft in a majestic, calm, and spiritual way. Like the Armenian novitiates in Jerusalem, creating images of divinity, our Madison artist was devoted to this craft. But even moreso perhaps, Drazen seemed to embody a profound link between the written word and the created image. This quiet artist, welcoming and pensive, is yet another treasure along the biblio-highway. So, if you're interested, and you're in Madison, look around, and maybe you'll find the city's own saint, sitting and working quietly in his workshop.