Born in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia, in 1970, Irena Gapkovska is a passionate visual artist who, since 1999, 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 Cultural Information Center KIC, and as an instructor at the Koncertino Music and Art School. Her paintings are in the collection of the Ministry of Finance in Skopje, St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Florida, as well as in several Churches in Macedonia and in the private collections of musicians, actors, and painters 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 Culture Information Centre KIC in Skopje.
In 1999 Irena founded NGO Art Studio, a non-governmental (not-for-profit) open art studio. 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”.
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, working on various cultural projects.
In April 2010, Irena established her studio at the Bakehouse Art Complex in Miami, Florida. She continues to run NGO Art Studio in Skopje.
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 Cultural Information Center KIC 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 Cultural Information Center KIC, an exhibition to inaugurate the collaboration between Irena’s NGO Art Studio and Bakehouse Art Complex, 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 Tanef and Dana Klein attended the opening exhibition of Irena’s studio at Bakehouse Art Complex in Miami, Florida. 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. Since then, Irena has participated in the "2010 Summer Exhibition,” the "Water,” "Book,” and "RUTA” group exhibitions, as well as the "Lucky You” and the "5 x 7” exhibition (with two paintings sold), all at the Bakehouse Art Complex. In 2010 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.
In February 2011 she exhibited in the "Recently Acquired” group exhibition at the Bakehouse Art Complex and had her first South Florida solo exhibition at the Luna Star Café (opposite the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami), with a painting sold. In March, she delivered an Icon of the Holy Trinity commissioned by St. Thomas University for the newly renovated Kennedy Hall.