The following text on Iris Canti has been translated from Italian to English by Vivienne Roberts with the permission of the author, Paola Giovetti. The full version in Italian was first published in 1982 as part of Paola’s book Arte Medianica by Edizioni Mediterranee. I would like to thank Paola for her kindness in giving permission for to celebrate Iris Canti’s art and learn more about this fascinating mediumistic artist. Copyright of the text remains with Paola Giovetti.

Balance 1979- mediumistic drawing by Iris Canti © Paola Giovetti

Iris Canti is probably the most famous Italian mediumistic painter. Her art has been exhibited several times in Milan and other cities, although she has only agreed to sell in particular circumstances, and then only to her friends. In later life she lived in a small apartment in Milan where, surrounded by her paintings, she devoted herself to breeding canaries. At this time she had stopped painting mediumistically, but continued to receive messages via automatic writing. One such message is described by Paola Giovetti:

“In the spring of 1979 I went to visit Iris for the first time in her little house full of paintings and canaries, I was greeted with great kindness and affability. Iris among other things, told me that my visit had been ‘announced’ to her and explained that she had learned of my imminent arrival by a written guided message. I must say that I went to Iris to write an article on her, but instead, she immediately told me that I would write about mediumistic art in a book. At that time, I had not thought to write a book on this topic, but at the most just a few articles. I had very little material on mediumistic art and obtaining it was far from easy. In reality, I had ‘stumbled upon’ the phenomenon in question only from a personal friendship with the artist Milly Canavero. However, in a relatively short space of time it turned out that I was able to collect, even by accident, a considerable amount of material about this phenomenon, both in Italy and abroad. Equally unexpectedly, I met the publisher, to whom I owe a lot of gratitude for encouraging me to carry on this work and for having had the will to publish it. I add that in the period in which I worked on this book, Iris inspired me: her job and that of the other artists, she told me, had been to produce the works, it was my job to make them known. She told me this so many times that I was convinced, and so, Iris Canti’s ‘prediction’ came true.”

Iris suffered great hardship in her life and the manifestation of her spiritualist abilities began in the late 1940s after a séance when she was about 40 years old. She described her first experience as coinciding with “a moment of anguish” after which making some serious decisions found that she could no longer trust anyone and had lost all hope. She said, “As a last resort, I decided to attend my first séance and visited a well known trance medium who spoke in the voice of their spirit guide. It was a big shock and a revelation to hear the medium summarize my past and present lives and the session left me in no doubt. I attended other sittings and followed the advice I received. I also knew that I was to become a medium, and that phenomena would begin to happen which would restore my faith in life and give me the strength to resist, as well as offering evidence of the immortality of existence. Of what ‘phenomena’ it was I did not know, nor could I imagine because I was completely devoid of knowledge in this field. However, I trusted the predictions which made it easier to endure and overcome the problems that complicated my existence”.

Shortly after, on June 21 1948, Iris’ most important revelation took place which told that she could draw mediumistically: “This phenomenon amazed me and numerous strange drawings followed one another. I asked the opinion of some painters who responded with the acknowledgement that they were highly unusual and yet perfect designs, which in their judgment I could not have executed, not having the slightest artistic ability. From then I began to draw nightly without being able to refrain from following this new impulse that guided me continually. Furthermore, to ensure that my physical state was normal I even contacted the well-known neurologist Prof. Cesare Clivio.”

Unlike many other mediumistic artists who have one unified style, Iris painted in a light trance with either of her hands which she believed were inspired by different entities. She never had any idea what the outcome would be and never went to work with the intention of painting something specific. Sometimes the paintings were executed upside down, so that the meaning of the work only became clear after by turning the canvas. She would start at a random point with lines moving around and intersecting until at the end the final design appeared aesthetically harmonious and coherent as if it was planned by an expert with the use of a model and prepared sketches. Some of her works were performed with a dot technique compiled of thousands of tiny, seemingly insignificant, pen-tipped points, but put together they represent a perfect composition. As a spiritualist she was firmly convinced of this phenomenon and believed that her main purpose in life was painting. If you consider Iris’ difficulties one might also think that painting, rather than being a task, constituted compensation for her frustrating personal experiences. Although, this is not always the case and does not not explain the globality of the phenomenon.

Drawing by Iris Canti from the 1940s

Iris almost always painted at night receiving guided lessons at first in pencil, then pen and finally with the brush, first for the watercolours followed by oils. For a time Iris also modelled some ceramics, which depicted the same enigmatic faces that one finds in her artworks. Each artwork took between one and ten hours depending on the technique used. At times the process was interrupted due to physical ailments, but there were never any corrections needed which is a common trait for many of these artists. Her works are highly decorative and full of symbols of which she often identifies precognitive meanings, mainly referring to fears about her personal life of which she keeps the utmost discretion.

Iris never wanted to offer interpretations of her works other than those she receives through automatic writing. Furthermore, each painting or drawing has its own story and link with the artist’s life. For example, as seen in her reference to the drawing called Balance – “This drawing is particularly dear to me. It was for me like a revelation, and also at the same time a lifeline. In fact, on a night of deep discouragement, experiencing some strange sensations, as if wandering into other dimensions, I wondered if I weren’t crazy! In that state of fear, being seated in front at my desk, where there was already a white cardboard, like an automaton I began to draw. Small and arabesque drawings came which were detached here and there and did not offer any definitive composition. Suddenly I was seized by such a strong sleepiness, that I had to throw myself on the bed. When I went to review that strange drawing, fragmented and without structure I felt the urge to resume drawing with great curiosity and in the hope of seeing the result. After a few hours the signature came which was a signal as for all the drawings, that the message was finished, and with great interest I looked at the details seeing the shape of a pyramid full of beautiful heads linked together and above one on the other. I tried to understand their meaning, but I did not find an explanation. I asked for a written answer to my curiosity and got this response: “But don’t you see what it means, you are balanced, not crazy? After this revelation I felt calm and reassured of a better future which was enforced a few days later when a painter friend who was very interested in my phenomenon and followed my development saw the drawing and pointed out that the large head at the base of the construction resembled me exactly! It was further confirmation that this new revelation was a direct message to me.” 

Iris’ strange mission never ceases to amaze her, and has often been difficult for others to understand. The many doubts have led her in search of the truth of which, after considering all scientific explanations, she has accepted the mystery and admitted that it must be the intervention of higher entities which guide her hand and which will probably not always be understood by any human mind. 

Iris Canti – Copyright © Paola Giovetti

For other mediumistic artists like Iris Canti featured in Paola’s book please see our pages on Gertrud Emde, Salomé and Fritzi Libora Reif.