Born in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia, in 1970, Irena Gapkovska is a passionate visual artist who, since 1998, is also the Founder and President of NGO Art Studio in Skopje. “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.”
An award winning graphic designer who has studied the ancient Byzantine methods of fresco painting and traditional Icon portraiture, Irena’s paintings have also been exhibited at several international art exhibitions. She has represented the Republic of Macedonia at conferences in Switzerland, Poland, Azerbaijan, France, the Netherlands, and the United States. She has also served as Art Mentor for the KIC-QIK Cultural Information Center and as an instructor at the Koncertino Music and Art School in Skopje. Her paintings are in the collection of the Ministry of Finance in Skopje, the Macedonian Embassy in Washington DC, St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Florida, as well as in several Churches in Macedonia and in many private collections around the world.
About her work:
“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. 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.
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.”
Irena graduated from High Art School in Skopje, Macedonia, in 1988. In 1995 she earned her Masters Degree in Graphic Art from St. Kyril Methodiy University Fine Art Academy in Skopje, with her thesis on Symbolism in Art. From 2001 to 2003 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.”
Irena was graphic designer for the newspaper “Elena” and for “Nova Makedonija” magazine, receiving a national award for best art illustration in 1997. She also taught art at the prestigious Koncertino Music and Art School, and in 1998 became Art Mentor for visual arts department at the KIC-QIK Culture Information Centre in Skopje.
In 1998 Irena founded NGO Art Studio, a non-governmental (not-for-profit) open art studio in Skopje. She has worked with high enthusiasm and dedication to promote Macedonian culture and visual arts, from the earliest Centuries through the contemporary artistic scene, while exploring symbolism, impressionism, modernism, surrealism, etc., choosing a variety of different mannerisms and techniques leading towards one common message. Those different moods in those particular moments mirror our reality and our existence, and reveal a pristine and immediate response to that subconscious reality, expressed spontaneously through visual impressions before the intellectual process of creation. According to this movement, art works are contemplating figuration as an expression of “realism” of some sort, are independent from this reality. The truth can only be processed through the simplicity of quick drawing and sketching with the goal of preserving the freedom of the “first impression”.
Although strictly non-political, from 2006-2008 Irena was Project Coordinator for the Macedonian Ministry of Culture, coordinating visual arts and theatre projects including the European Premiere of the opera “The Captivation of Eunice Williams” at the Albanian National Theatre and “Alternativa”, the first Albanian independent magazine for culture. Irena was also Project Coordinator for the Minister of Culture in Kosovo in 2009.
In 2010 Irena established a studio at the Bakehouse Art Complex in Miami, Florida, and in 2018 she will open a Studio and Gallery in Perpignan, France. She continues to run NGO Art Studio in Skopje with the help of her assistant, Ana Trajkovska.
While a student, Irena was featured in several group exhibitions in Skopje, Bitola, Stip, and Ohrid, Macedonia. Since graduation, she has organized group exhibitions and shown her work in Skopje at the KIC-QIK Cultural Information Center in 1998; the MKC Youth Cultural Center in 1999; the Army Holl Center in 2001, 2004, and 2005; and “Peace One Day” at the Univerzitetska Biblioteka Sv. Kliment Ohridski in September 2006. In February 2007, Irena organized an important show “Ars Vivendi” (art of living) at the Macedonian National Gallery Mala Stanica. Irena’s international exhibitions include Eindhoveen in 2004; Reusel in 2006; Jan de Bouvries Tiburlg in 2006 (all in The Netherlands) and the Shangri-La Gallery in Houston, Texas, in 2008.
In February 2010 she organized “Ars vs. Argumentum” at the KIC-QIK Cultural Information Center in Skopje, an exhibition to inaugurate the collaboration between Irena’s NGO Art Studio and Bakehouse Art Complex in Miami, Florida, at which Mr. John Surface, Cultural Attaché to Macedonia from the United States Embassy, was the guest of honor. In April 2010, Their Excellencies Macedonian Honorary Consuls Tommy Taneff and Dana Klein attended the opening exhibition of Irena’s studio at Bakehouse Art Complex. Also present at the Bakehouse opening were His Excellency Gligor Tashkovich, former Macedonian Minister of Foreign Investment, and Robert Starnes, Regional Director of the Office of Foreign Missions of the U.S. Department of State.
Irena has participated in many group exhibitions at the Bakehouse Art Complex and elsewhere; she had works accepted in “Love thy Liberty” at Sailboat Loft in Ft. Lauderdale, the “My Art Art Show” and auction for UTV 34.2 Television in North Miami, and “Project New Born” at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. In 2011, Irena had her first South Florida solo exhibition at the Luna Star Café (opposite the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami). In June she had a solo exhibition in Washington DC and was interviewed on Voice of America. She also delivered an Icon of the Holy Trinity commissioned by St. Thomas University for the newly renovated Kennedy Hall, and she exhibited at the Galleria Ft. Lauderdale’s “Spring for the Arts ~ Life Is Art” South Florida Artist Show, as well as participating in a number of group shows including “Sketchy Miami” at the Bakehouse Art Complex and elsewhere in South Florida.
In 2012, Irena had a solo exhibition at the world famous Churchill’s Pub in Little Haiti, Miami, where she was subsequently commissioned to paint three large murals for the ceiling. She also had her drawing published in the OSTEN World Gallery of Drawings 40th Biennale. In 2013, Irena participated in several group shows; in Macedonia at the Aleksandar Palace in Skopje, and in South Florida at the annual holiday exhibitions at South Pointe Tower and Macys in South Beach (where she gave live demonstrations of her artwork), and at the Blue Moon Gallery in Coconut Grove and the Stage in Miami.
In January 2014, Irena was honored by a visit from Macedonian Ambassador to the United States, Zoran Jolevski, who came to her Studio at the Bakehouse Art Complex. In March, Irena’s ceiling murals at Churchill’s Pub were unveiled along with a solo exhibition of Irena’s artwork. In May, NGO Art Studio in Macedonia moved to new premises in Skopje and she 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 Cultural Attaché to the Honorary Consulate from Macedonia to South Florida.
Although Irena is strictly non-political, His Excellency Vasko Naumovski, Macedonian Ambassador to the United States, was an honored guest in Irena’s Studio in March 2015. Irena was also selected to participate in the 18th International Print Biennial in Varna, Bulgaria, and in July she 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, Radmila Sekerinska, member of Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia, and other dignitaries and VIP's. 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 Miami Beach.
In 2016, Irena participated in a group exhibition at Libraria e Çarshisë in Skopje (attended by the usual VIP’s). In July, a Portfolio of a limited edition of 10 of her prints was presented to Irena 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, her 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.
Irena exhibited her limited edition Portfolio at the Skopje Book Fair in April, 2017, and had a solo exhibition: "Venus in Venice: Sequences of Female Illusion" at the ARCHIVI DELLA MISERICORDIA in Venice, Italy, for two weeks during the Venice Biennale in July. In November her work was featured in an exhibition in Rijeka, Croatia.
She is establishing another branch of NGO Art Studio and Gallery in Perpignan, France, which will open in 2018.