Village News

The art of humour

24 May 2024

Oakridge Villas resident and artist Iris

During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the thick of lockdown restrictions, Oakridge Villas resident and keen artist Iris Steensma received a beautiful, leather-bound blank book from her son Jake in Canberra.

The book remained empty for several months, until a friend challenged Iris to draw in it every day for 100 days. She took up the challenge and now her quirky drawings, accompanied by often hilarious captions, fill almost four books, bringing much laughter to all those she shares them with.

“I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid,” says Iris. “I’m a war baby from Amsterdam, but even so, my parents always managed to get some sort of pencil and paper for me.”

Finding her inspiration from literally anywhere – a gardener’s boot or a new pair of shorts – Iris’s drawings capture small memories and fleeting thoughts that would normally be forgotten, in the most humorous way.

“The fun is capturing something quickly on the day, and it’s a wonderful way to keep myself amused.”

Oakridge Villas Sales Assistant Sophie Gorrett says Iris has her “in tears with her sense of humour”.

“Each day her drawings tell a new story. She has a talent for portraying modern memes in an old-fashioned way, and most people can completely relate to these little moments in time,” says Sophie.

Born in the Netherlands, Iris and her mother immigrated to New Zealand in 1952 where she attended school in Palmerston North and graduated from Teachers’ Training College.

At 22, Iris returned to Europe on her OE intending to come back to New Zealand a year later. However, after meeting and marrying her British husband Col in Germany, it was another 42 years before she made it back Down Under. Instead, she and Col lived in Cyprus, England, Australia and Papua New Guinea.

While in Australia, Iris worked for the National Gallery of Australia as a guide, and did a botanical art course with coloured pencils. She also tried her hand at lino printing.

“There was a big art centre opening, and one of my prints won first prize in a competition. I couldn’t believe it, all these people with impressive, large oil paintings and watercolours, and my little linocut took out first prize!”

The surprise win encouraged her to enrol in a printmaking course at the Canberra Institute of Technology, where she mastered the art of lino printing, etching, lithography, woodblock, screen printing and fabric printing.

Inspired by the first line of a Jenny Joseph poem, ‘When I am old, I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn’t go’, Iris began a print series she called ‘Purple Women’.

“My purple women did all sorts of outrageous things like run away from home and join the circus!”

Capturing the eye of a French publisher, one of these purple women was published in a book titled ‘Le Champagne dans l'Art’.

“It was very exciting – a big glossy book published in France, and there was my little lino print titled ‘I shall drink champagne for breakfast!’,” says Iris.

Latest news.