Biography: Born in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia, Irena Gapkovska is a passionate visual artist who, since 1998, is also the Founder and President of NGO Art Studio in Skopje.
Irena was graphic designer for the newspaper Elena and for Nova Makedonija Magazine, receiving a national award for best art illustration. She earned a Masters Degree in Graphic Art from St. Kyril Methodiy University Fine Art Academy in Skopje with her thesis on Symbolism in Art. Educated in a very traditional manner, she takes inspiration from the moments and impressions from life: “Our deeply visual culture shows the fascination humanity has always had with the power of images within the context of Byzantine art.” She divides her time between NGO Art Studio Skopje and Bakehouse Art Complex in Miami, Florida.
Show highlights: In March 2014, Irena’s ceiling murals at Churchill’s Pub were unveiled along with a solo exhibition of Irena’s artwork. In May 2014, NGO Art Studio in Macedonia moved to new premises in Skopje and Irena participated in a group exhibition to inaugurate the new Atelier. In September, Irena was one of six international winners of the prestigious OSTEN Plaque (from over 1416 submissions by 475 artists from 53 countries). Her artwork was exhibited at the OSTEN World Gallery of Drawings in Skopje, published in the 42nd OSTEN Biennial of Drawings Catalogue, and featured on Macedonian Radio Television MRT. In November 2014, Irena was appointed as Cultural Attaché to the Honorary Consulate from Macedonia to South Florida.
In July 2015, Irena participated in a group exhibition at KIC-QIK Cultural Information Center in Skopje, which was attended by Jess Baily, Ambassador from the United States to Macedonia, and other dignitaries and VIP’s from Macedonia and the Diaspora. In August, Irena was invited to give a solo “painting performance” in conjunction with “Speak Friday” at the Bakehouse Art Complex. In September she opened a solo exhibition (which remained for one year) at the Macedonian Embassy in Washington DC, coinciding with black tie events celebrating Macedonian Independence Day. In November, Irena was one of 12 artists invited to paint at Spectrum-Miami during Art Basel.
In 2016, Irena participated in a group exhibition at Libraria e Çarshisë in Skopje (attended by the usual VIP’s). Also in July 2016, a Portfolio of a limited edition of 10 prints along with a solo exhibition at OSTEN Gallery. Also, Irena participated in a group show at the MKC Cultural Youth Center in Skopje. In December 2016, her most recent work was published in the 44th OSTEN Biennial of Drawing Catalogue and was exhibited in a group show at Čifte Amam, part of the National Gallery of Macedonia.
Do you make a career out of or hope to make a career out of art, or is it a sideline for you?
Irena earned her Masters Degree in Graphic Art from St. Kyril Methodiy University Fine Art Academy in Skopje with her thesis on Symbolism in Art. She studied the ancient Byzantine technique of fresco and Icon painting, which she learned at the Veljusa Monastery, near Strumica, Macedonia. Educated in a very traditional manner, she takes inspiration from the moments and impressions from life: “Our deeply visual culture shows the fascination humanity has always had with the power of images within the context of Byzantine art.” She is a full-time artist.
What is it about your work that makes it speak to people or to the community at large?
“As a Macedonian artist, the influence of the Byzantine is present in my work in many different ways. My images are usually rather surrealistic in style and I focus on the human figure in a symbolic manner. By using the aesthetics of ancient Macedonian and Russian art to express the spirituality of the subject, I make a bridge between abstract and figurative realities ~ combining them in an authentic manner with an intellectual approach to make a unique visual story of symbolic expression.”
How do you let people know about your work and your shows?
The role the Bakehouse Art Complex plays in Irena’s international success cannot be understated. Although a self supporting Artist and Art Mentor for more than 20 years, the credibility of being associated with the Bakehouse Art Complex opens doors and creates opportunities… Especially in the arts, initial acceptance is key, and an association with BAC shows that Irena has been accepted and approved. The prestige and reputation of the Bakehouse (as she readily informs those who are not aware) are now known far and wide. And the connections she makes while talking about the Bakehouse are quite worthwhile.
Irena is not looking for “A Room Of One’s Own” (as Virginia Woolf would have it) but rather interaction between colleagues (and visitors). While the chance to exhibit her work in the gallery (or even the hallway) and/or the chance to sell something during a Bakehouse event is always welcome, the opportunities for intellectual conversation, professional development, interaction with colleagues and fellow Artists, and the opportunities for learning new techniques are most important to Irena’s creativity.
What do you feel inspires you to make art in the particular medium you have chosen?
“Symbolism and figuration is a prevalent trend in Macedonian art, but my individualistic approach comes from inner explorations and from my specific struggle to find symbiosis from tradition, personal attitudes, and beliefs. This includes the emotional sensations resulting from propaganda and brainwashing that creates “idols” that we need to imitate (or buy). This rational thinking, and irrational subconscious treasure of information, is known as intuition.
How to reach the beauty of simplicity ~ of the existence of a world with values and beauty we must not forget? My art moves away from sarcasm and arrogance with purpose. We have enough decadency, so I create some sort of sanctuary from where we have the freedom to ignore the stereotypes of social codex’s non-logical fears. It is not simple to represent this paradox in my art, which is always looking towards the new but at the same time is conservative ~ and made by brush and idea. Attempts to be free in my art expression is my main motto, because art is about freedom.”
To represent European Art and Culture in the New World.
Do you have a favorite artist from the past or present?
Based on anthropology and mysticism, intuition in the 20th Century has been explored by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, but Byzantine simplicity is my spiritual and visual modus. The figurative propositions follow the weariness of abstract art after its long domination on the artistic stage, influencing the new “old school” of classical drawing.
If someone wanted to get into being an artist, what would be your first suggestion to them?
Hold on tight! Enjoy the ride!
Testimonial: Thank you, James and Annette, for all you do!
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