By Judith Levine
Irina Koren came to us recently, joining MAA in April of 2019 as a result of friendships with many MAA artists. But she comes to the US from a much greater time and distance.
Born in 1969 in Moscow, she and her brother were raised there. In 1989 she attended an art college that was a continuation of her high school and then taught art for a year. In 1991 her family fulfilled a lifelong dream to move to the US. As ethnic Jews they had always faced prejudice and it was finally their turn to leave.
They made the trip straight to Maryland-no stop in New York City-and ended up in Gaithersburg where she still lives. Koren laughingly told me of the shock of expecting to see something like NYC as that was the only image that she and most Russians have of the US, and finding herself in what was then still very rural Gaithersburg.
Though it would grow rapidly in the next few years, there were still working farms in the area. They had no car yet but did finally start to make treks into DC with friends who did own one. (They were unaware of the Metro stop.)
After taking English classes and learning a lot more about the US and American culture, Koren began classes at Baltimore’s Maryland Institute of Art in 1992 and earned her BFA in 1994. She expected that it would take longer but in a surprise move, the school accepted her Russian credits. In the meantime she married in 1995, had her daughter in 1996, and became a single parent two years later. Armed now with her new degree in Visual Communications, the artist would then begin a career that a friend suggested.
She became a noted muralist. Her work can be seen in area restaurants, entertainment centers and parks such as North Virginia Park Authority, Shadowland Laser Adventures, Urban Winery and in many private homes. Koren was featured in magazines and newspapers including the Jerusalem Times. The same friend later suggested she add faux finishing to her roster and Koren expanded her base as she began to do faux wall finishing and furniture to what she could offer her clients.
But her primary love of the fine arts was never out of her heart and mind even as she had the need to earn a living. She continued to paint when she could.
By 2017, her daughter grown, Koren felt it was time to seek out a new community in the visual arts. She craved the presence of other artists and a chance to move full time into painting for herself. After attending an Artomatic event in 2017, she began to do just that. She met fellow and soon-to-be-friend artists such as Anastasia Walsh, Amanda Spaid, Jamie Downs, Sandra Perez-Ramos, Roxana Rojas Luzon and many others. Koren began to use unusual objects in her painting including sequins and guitar picks, and she also started her unique hubcap series.
“Two years ago, we were going into DC, I saw hubcaps in the road .. .[and I retrieved them and] just started to paint them. They were there and it “... was the right place in the right time! And there are LOTS of hubcaps in the world!!” she grinned.
Asked about artists she loves and who might have influenced her, she replied instantly, “ Van Gogh! His passion! His colors! His expression!” And Chagall is in that group, also because of his use of brilliant colors and maybe a bit too because of the connection to Jewish ideas and celebrations. She is drawn to the contemporary work of experimental painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer. Each of them possesses the two major qualities Koren seeks in her own creations: movement and rich colour. She described the way she works.
“I listen to music while I paint. I don’t start out a work knowing what it is going to be.” Yes, she has a subject such as a dancer that has been chosen, but not a vision of what she wants her finished work to look like. She does not do preliminary sketches or paintings.
“I just start with color and movement and see what will happen.”
Her philosophy for her artwork is to be willing to experiment, to grow as an artist and above all, be passionate. And she said this would be what she would tell any young or just beginning artist. “Just be passionate, everything else will come.”What and where does she envision her future? “That’s a good question.” she replied. She wants to do more things with other artists, having more collaboration on creating and doing shows together too. Koren is currently finishing a show at Ranazul Restaurant in Fulton
And she was a prize-winning entrant at MAA's 2019 Creative Expressions show. She has traveled extensively and doesn’t plan to stop exploring the world.
As to remaining here, she will do so unless her daughter relocates and then, well, who knows. Thank you very much to Irina Koren for sharing her story, her vision of her art, her philosophy and her vibrant personality with us.