Words by Michelle Heslop. Photos by Luca Hoffecker.
When did your fascination with painting begin? I really loved art in high school but didn’t really have a chance to make art part of my professional life for many years. After high school, I studied French and Economics but I was always fascinated by the arts. Wherever my work took me, I would always find the museums and galleries.
From a corporate translator in Paris to film marketing for Warner Brothers, Walt Disney, and Columbia Pictures, your career in Germany was a success and extremely busy. Tell us about your transition to becoming a fine artist. It wasn’t a linear path and involved many steps. I was head of publicity for Warner Bros and worked about 60 to 80 hours a week. With my then, soon-to-be husband we founded our own marketing company in Hamburg, where we worked for film companies and producers and eventually had 40 to 50 employees. Eventually, we had two children and realized that we didn’t have enough time for our family life. Some producers think they own you once they hire you and have no problem calling you at 1:00 am or on Christmas Day to discuss the campaign.
It was on a very rare vacation to Western Canada, specifically in Victoria, where we started to discuss the idea of completely changing our life. It was appealing to us to jump off the runaway train that was stealing all of our time from life with our children. Less than two years later we moved from Hamburg to Victoria. In 2005, I started taking classes at the Vancouver Island School of Art, which allowed me to study in a very flexible way. Before attending art school, I liked creating watercolour paintings of landscapes but I wanted to move forward and have an education in the arts.
Was there a moment or a specific event that initiated such a significant career shift? It is a very dramatic shift, from marketing movies to the wonderful solitude in the studio. But for the first years, I did not see it as a career shift at all. I was a mom and was very happy to finally be taking care of the kids. It was the best thing in my life to have time for my children, to be there with them every step of the way. But while the two were at school, I enjoyed going to art school. When it was time to earn money again, my will to stay out of the office environment was very strong. At that time, I had my first exhibition and sold my first paintings, so the career shift happened somewhat gradually.
Over a 30 year period, you moved multiple times and resided in Paris, Lima, Cusco, Munich, Berlin, and Hamburg to name a few. Is there a particular city that stands out or informs your art? I just moved for the twenty-seventh time! Well, German history interests me a lot. Berlin has inspired me the most in my work. It has experienced so many identities over the past 150 years and I bring those historic layers to my work.
How would you describe your painting style? When you study art, you are exposed to all kinds of materials, mediums, and styles. I am fascinated by abstraction. Over the years, I have worked with architectural elements and overlaid maps of Berlin to discuss the many different identities of this city. When you view the painting, Berlin Spaces, for example, I overlay some historic and architectural elements from the Jewish Museum, the building of the Philharmonie, the Holocaust Memorial, the new library, and the Reichstag.
You have studied art extensively since starting to paint only 15 years ago. You recently graduated with an MFA from Plymouth University in England. Before that, you gained a Diploma of Fine Arts from the Vancouver Island School of Art, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours) from the University of Gloucestershire in England. How has this changed or enhanced your art practice? Many people asked why I would do my MFA although I obtained my Bachelor of Fine Arts and had sold over 190 paintings already. Well, I want to grow and diversify. You will see that my painting style has changed and evolved over the years. For me, it is more important to learn and challenge what I know than to sell more paintings in the same style.
Where have you shown your work recently? This past summer 2019, I had a solo exhibition at the Zack Gallery in Vancouver. In the fall, I had a successful solo exhibition of my MFA work, History as Personal Memory, at the Front Gallery in Edmonton. Here in Victoria, I’ve had some exhibitions in galleries, but I am also selling my work directly from my studio and accepting commissions. I will have a solo exhibition in May 2020 at Fortune Gallery on Fisgard Street in Chinatown in Victoria.
Can people visit your studio? You can come to my studio at 975 Alston Street (by appointment) or view my work online at www.irahoffecker.com.
Is there any special quote or mantra you live by? Never be afraid to try something new.