Bold, hypnotic and other-worldly visuals from the Maryland Institute College of Art graphic design graduate
Iris Lee’s work is hard to miss; it’s bold, bursting with colour and addictively intense. Driven by her ever-expanding pool of interests and obsessions, the ideas which power her practice are just as rich and varied as the hypnotic visuals they produce. Whether it’s an archival publication or a virtual dreamworld, the results are invariably mesmerising and difficult to forget.
Drawing on a broad range of visual and conceptual material, Iris always found ways to work her interests into university projects at Maryland Institute of Contemporary Arts (MICA), where she graduated from last summer. “I was doing a lot of retrofitting of whatever I thought was interesting into whatever brief I was given and working backward from there,” she reflects. It was these sprawling interests and ideas that inspired her thesis project ‘Ether’, an investigation into the notion of borders, which developed as a thematic archive of created and collected writing and imagery. Iris’s fixation with the power of boundaries “as invisible distinctions that are … able to designate those othered by group-based identities as well as form the traditions, infrastructure, and myths that we abide by” drives the project as it winds through varying subjects and related ephemera.
The other-worldly visuals that mark out Iris’s work are the product of her compulsion to explore the full potential of any medium or process. “When I get interested in a particular image-making process, colour palette, visual theme … I tend to latch onto it and exhaust every possible variant and solution I can think up … It’s a pretty destructive and chaotic process.” This approach is bolstered further by Iris’s central design philosophies: “whatever works, works, and fake it till you make it. My practice is a whole lot of believing in myself a little too hard, and then having to make up for my bluffing retroactively.”
Her education at MICA aided this experimental approach, providing Iris with the tools and resources she required to push her practice, most notably “a laser cutter, a CNC mill, talented friends and teachers, and Baltimore, which has been an ever-continuing blessing.” Indeed, it was in Baltimore, working for The Contemporary, that Iris got her first real taste of professional design work. She describes her trajectory — which began at art institutions like The Contemporary and moved on to big ad agencies like Pentagram and Wieden + Kennedy, where she currently works — as “a bit of an unorthodox beginning to [her] career,” finding herself “performing what felt like a catch-all, anything-and-everything kind of position rather than a formal internship.”
These experiences were a steep learning curve but they are ones that Iris is immensely grateful for. The fast pace enabled her to become comfortable more quickly and within a relatively short time she “started poking the boundaries of what [she] could get published or okayed.” Continually playing with this balance of push and pull taught her one of her most important lessons: “that taking my work seriously doesn’t mean that I have to make boring work.”
We can’t wait to see where she takes her practice next but, just like the inspiration she draws on and the ideas that interest her, Iris’s plans for the future go far beyond the realm of design. The one thing she knows she wants to do in 2019? “I think I’d like to visit 黄山 [Huangshan] with my mom.”