Meet visual artist Iris Barbee Bonner

What is your earliest memory of creation?

My earliest memory is drawing on a napkin with my dad when I was younger, probably like first grade. My dad is a carpenter and he used to always draw on a napkin. I thought he was the best artist ever until I got older.


When did you first discover art and fashion as an outlet for self-expression?

I used to be really shy! People never believe me now but I was. My art has helped me come out of my shell. It was easy for me to draw how I felt, what I wanted to do, and who I wanted to become. That naked woman was the opposite of my soft-spoken, shy persona. I could express myself so freely with art without feeling judged. Where do you find inspiration? In other words, what are the things you need in your life to create? I get my inspiration from everything, my everyday life. It could be a sunny day, a cloudy day, a good or bad mood I’m in. Color, music, friends, family, relationships. Fashion and music really everything inspires me.


Was there anybody in your life who doubted your artistic ambitions? How did you overcome that?

There are always going to be people who don’t believe in you. Some people don’t get me as an artist. When they look at my work they may think its raunchy and even sexist but when you take a deep look at it its more then just a naked woman on a canvas. Everyone is not going to get my work that’s fine. I think it would be boring if they did.

When did you realize that you could turn your art into a full time business? Did anybody mentor you along the way?

I would say my friends. I would draw and paint things and they would ask me to make them stuff. They would say 'why aren’t you selling this stuff?' and that’s what I started doing.

What are some of the greater challenges you’ve had to face turning your brand into a business?

This is hard! You never know what to expect. I may have a great month, and I may have a bad month, it’s all a part of the growing process. Some days I want to give up but then I remember why I started and at the end of the day this is my passion, and I cannot see myself doing anything else. It’s a beautiful thing going through this. You should never get comfortable and always want more. There is no ending.

You mentioned in a film previewing the Black Light District show that your mother loves your work. Were you afraid she wouldn’t accept it? 

My mother is really like my best friend. I talk to her about everything so I was never scared or thought twice about showing her my work. As I was preparing for my first show there were naked women paintings all throughout my mother’s house. I remember the painting I did of a woman with a strap on and my mom looked and said ‘well I like the bright colors’. She’s so carefree and not judgmental. I think that’s where I get it from.


You have an alter ego you call ‘Goal Digger’. You describe her as “carefree, brave and unafraid of expressing her true inner self, feelings and desires”. Why are all of these qualities important to you? 

It’s so important to me. It may sound corny but if you're not yourself or if you're afraid to be yourself because of what someone might say then you're really not living and what’s the point? Just strive to to be the best you, you can be. Never settle and always want more for you! Strive towards your goals and put everything into action! Don’t let a 'no' from anyone man or woman keep you from being great!

iris barbee bonner
iris barbee bonner

You’re heavy into ‘girl power’. What would you say to somebody who sees your work as exploitive or gratuitous?

The same thing I always say. Its uplifting and inspiring for women to be sexy, strong, beautiful, and comfortable with femininity and power. I don’t know why some people look at the naked female figure as something negative. It's beautiful and we should celebrate it!

What do you love about the female form? Why do you think so many people are afraid of nudity and sexuality?

What’s not to love? It’s beautiful…it’s really just art. I think some people are so uncomfortable with it because of societal pressures.

Who are some of your female heroes?

I love Miss Van. She was like the first female artist that inspired me as an artist. She had all different forms of the female body and just didn’t care! Wow, she’s a badass female graffiti artist in a male dominated industry and she celebrates the female figure like me! I’m obsessed with Grace Jones. She is herself all the way and could care less about what anyone thinks. Her confidence is out of this world!

How else do you see your work touching the lives of others? How do your fans inspire you?

I see girls like how I use to be. I was really shy and insecure about some things growing up. But when I express that with my art and share it with others you never know what others are going through. I’m just sharing things that helped me. I feel good when people come to me and say ‘hey I started sketching in a diary and it helps me too’. I just want to promote self-love and that it’s a beautiful thing to celebrate, being a woman. My fans and friends inspire me everyday. They are the reason I am able to live off of what I love. They accept me for me.

How do you want viewers to feel when they see your next show, Sexist, at The Dreaming Building?

I want them to be blown away. To feel like they just left a crazy experience. I want them to leave with a little piece of my world.

What inspired the theme for you and your collaborator, Distortedd?

I love Distortedd’s work! She uses her work to express herself like me. When I look at her work I see her in it. I have always been about [female] empowerment and lately the artwork that I have been doing has just naturally been dealing with a lot of those issues with sexism and traditional gender roles.


What was it like to work with another powerful female artist on this show?

It was awesome! I know a lot people expect cattiness and all those things that come to mind when they say two women are working together but it was none of that! It was real organic. We balanced each other out.


Distortedd poses in front of one of their pieces in Sexist. 

What is next for you?

I have a few more shows I want to do before the year is out, both local and in other states. I have my kickstarter art journal book that I’m finishing up and that will be ready by the end of the year. I’m really excited for that. I want to travel with my work and grow my business.

See Iris and Distortedd's Sexist at The Dreaming Building

Friday, September 19th. 8pm-12pm 618 N Front St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19123