Interview: Irina Kassabova
Luca Curci talks with Irina Kassabova during CONTEMPORARY VENICE 2021 and THE BODY LANGUAGE 2021 at THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space.
I grew up in Bulgaria and after my MFA graduation from the University of Veliko Tarnovo, I moved to the USA. I also was in debt to my father, who was an artist as well, for giving me a lot of knowledge and inspiration about art. Together we were able to organize two exhibits Father / Daughter, showing our works in Bulgaria and the USA. Moving, traveling, family grabbed my attention for a while and I was trying to find myself in art together with that. I experimented in different media, like artist books, suminagashi, collage and wood installation, printmaking and finally charcoal and pastel drawings and oil painting. In the beginning, I worked on a theme of the Earth’s natural history, fascinated to explore the huge skeletons from the life not existing anymore and learn how important it is to preserve nature and life forms. I showed my workers at The Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, NY and at the Ink Shop Printmaking Center. With my children growing and introducing my daughter to musical instruments, I revived my own childhood passion for music. I was a piano player. I discovered that it is never too late to learn another instrument, violin as well and my inspiration for my musical theme in my charcoals and oils began. Music became my life. I was equally eager to learn about violins, their intriguing history and how to play, and at the same time to express myself on the canvas or the sheet of paper. Through the years, I had different ideas within the music theme and I titled my solo exhibits, “Like Sacred Figures”, “Music House”, “The Luthier”, and “Listen”. I showed my works at Agora Gallery, NY; Veliko Tarnovo Art Galleries, Bulgaria; and at Community Arts Partnership, at the History Center in Ithaca, NY. Music has a healing power for me. It is part of our life to have hard moments and there is beauty in sadness in it. Music also rejuvenates, gives strength and gives new ideas. It soars your imagination and transfers you to another world. You are like a reborn. Music is power for your soul. Music and visual art are some of the most powerful forms of expression and together with that are thought-provoking. I believe we should keep creating and making open discussions through international exhibitions and concerts together, expanding our horizons.
Luca Curci – Which subject are you working on?
Irina Kassabova – The idea behind my art is to enthrone the music. I would like to elevate its meaning. I would like to point out that this is one of the most powerful forms of expression. It could influence us a lot in a very powerful way. Music can transfer us to another world. I’ve heard musicians from an orchestra saying that after a concert you are as if on a cloud and it is hard to get down, that the feeling is incomparable to anything else. Music can make you happy or sad, reasoning or feeling, it could bring all ranges of emotions. It can change your personality. After a concert, you are a different person. It can make you a better one, you can have more love in you, more compassion, more gentleness, and more good. Music helps you recognize beauty.
LC – How did you get to your current artistic practice?
IK – I grew up in a family of an artist and a university professor and we were talking about art at home all the time. Naturally, this made me want to be an artist. In addition to that, I was learning to play the piano when I was young. I am in debt to my family for showing me how to appreciate all forms of art. Art was everything that I had. I applied to a high school with an art major, where we had serious preparation in different forms of visual art and later I was accepted at Veliko Tarnovo University in Bulgaria and majored in Painting. After graduating I moved to the USA and I had a chance to try different mediums, like paper-making, Japanese suminagashi technique that was incorporated into my drawings as collages, as well as making artist books. In addition, I always wanted to learn to play the violin and I loved classical music. When my daughter started to play the violin, I decided I will try to learn with her. And of course, this influenced my current theme about music in my art. What I was learning from my violin practice I transferred the same ideas and principles into my drawings and paintings and I did the opposite as well. As Bob Dylan says, ”One good thing about music is that when it hits you are lost” and this is exactly what happened to me. I play, I draw, I paint – everything is music.
LC – Do you use art to express something in particular? Is it like your medium of expression?
IK – I simply want to express my love for music and art. Music also has a healing effect on me. Everybody has hard moments in life and music is there to help you cope and rejuvenate. You can’t go wrong by listening to classical music. It only makes you a better person and more compassionate. In addition to that, I would like my art to remind people that we should do better to preserve what we have, the instruments themselves, the tradition of playing music, keeping the level of professionalism and try to get better in music, visual art as well as violin making. I want my art to emphasize thought-provoking questions such as, “What would happen if a famous instrument didn’t have this luck of survival and it didn’t reach us nowadays? What would we lose if we didn’t hear the magnificent voices of Stradivari or Guarneri, and what would we do to cherish them and cherish music and art? How will we engage the younger generation to love music and art and continue this path?”. We have to keep this sense of continuity alive as music and art are some of the most powerful forms of expression.
LC – How do you feel when you see your work completed?
IK – I feel elevated. I am ready to start a new one and add something more to the previous one. When I am in the process it is like one uninterrupted thought. I make new conclusions after I finish a new work and compare it with all others. I am impatient to continue. I always have to put it next to the previous ones and look at the whole series like one whole. After finishing a new work it is always giving you a lot of ideas for a new one. Making new work is like writing down your new ideas on a sheet or canvas.
LC – Are your artworks focused on a specific theme?
IK – Yes, for the past several years, my art was focused on a musical theme. As I mentioned earlier I love classical music and I take my inspiration from there as well as from life itself. I think I often make a parallel between the two. I often listen to music while creating my art and it makes my thoughts go in a certain direction and think about life as well. In addition, as I am developing my art I like to get more knowledge of the history of music, violins, music performance, luthiers and luthiers’ work. I like to read about it and watch documentaries. In the end, I want my art to be more intellectually rich.
LC – Do you agree with our vision of art and what do you think about the theme of the festival?
IK – I like the theme of the festival about the Identities and the relationship between man, society and contemporary cities. I agree that cities reflect our society and the opposite as well. I personally believe that the places where I have been living shape to a large extent who I am. First, Veliko Tarnovo where I was born and studied art was a very inspiring place for me with its
meandering river and terrace after terrace that was built above it. The reflection of the city in the river stayed as a mirror image of my mind literally and figuratively. I don’t know where the city with so many artists and young people made my soul so soaring and dreaming. I loved the social events like new exhibits or concerts or theater performances. It is where I fell in love with the Italian history of art, studying Fine Arts at the university. Later, when I moved to Ithaca, upstate NY, I met new people, different artists and my vision was reshaped again. I worked on a theme of natural history, inspired by the museum of The Earth and so many people discussing nature and the environment. It made me more socially responsible about all the things above. There is a big support for the culture and knowledge as well and the art is thriving, something that you can see from the many murals even when you first enter the city and the concerts here are magnificent! Yes, again, I agree with the Venice Festival, you can find many extraordinary things in our ordinary day in the city. As long as there is a thriving culture there is a thriving society.
LC – In which way the artwork presented in our exhibition is connected with the festival’s theme?
IK – I believe my work “The Violin” (diptych) is connected strongly with the theme of the festival, having in mind that Venice was not only an Italian center of music during the Renaissance through nowadays but also a world music center with its music schools, operas, theaters and luthiers. A portrait of a historically connected musical instrument like the violin could be a symbolic portrait of the city of Venice. I participate in both Contemporary Venice and The Body Language Exhibitions with the same piece because I think it is related to both themes. In the piece, you can see the front and the back of a violin body often associated with the woman’s body and that was my idea. To show how sensitive, vulnerable, strong and with a lot of character and a personal life story a woman can be, often associated with a violin or the opposite. Yes, this is my way to show the hidden identity of a woman. And isn’t the violin in this case a Venetian costume, or a woman’s disguise? I strongly respect the cultural life in Italy that has its roots from the Renaissance to nowadays with all its artists, musicians and patrons of art. Venice is a cultural and trade center and is famous for attracting a diverse group of people, especially with its festivals. With its unique place in the midst of a lagoon and surrounded by water one can think that there is no better place for creating and performing music, where the water is the best medium for the sound. Moreover, it is the birthplace of Antonio Vivaldi and many other famous musicians. It is a city where one can see world-famous artists from Venetian School like Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and Canaletto and many others. In addition, the mood of my work complements the title that many people want to give to Venice, “the most romantic city”. Surrounded by exquisite Baroque architecture and water canals instead of roads, it was once an inspiration even for Shakespeare.
LC – What do you think about ITSLIQUID Platform?
IK – I like the platform of the ITSLIQUID Group. It is very well presented. It connects people, artists, designers, curators, gallerists and the whole international world through culture and sharing ideas. It is amazing how many international partners it has.
LC – What do you think about the organization of our event?
IK – It is nice that ITSLIQUID organizes international festivals. It is amazing that artists from different backgrounds and cultures can meet even if it is only through art and not in person. I like the themes of the exhibits. Very thought-provoking and contemporary; in tune with the globally developing world. I like the non-stopping process, always a new question, a new theme to think upon and show your creativity. It is how the world evolves.
LC – Would you suggest a collaboration with us? What do you think about our services?
IK – I would definitely recommend you to other artists and art organizers for collaboration. I am pleased with your attention and the information that you gave me on any level. Especially during the time of pandemic when many people can’t travel, it is wonderful that you can see the exhibition on a video and in addition have an idea how your art looks among other artists. Thank you for the interview!