Irena Ilina is an artist, illustrator and curator of exhibitions, student of the Master’s Degree in arts and Cultural Management in its last edition 2022/2023. Her career stands out for a wide range of work as a freelance illustrator, participation in exhibitions, in Russia and here in Barcelona, both as an artist and cultural manager. In addition, she has participated in the creation of art courses as a lecturer at Nabroskii Studio. In this interview, Irena talks about the challenges of creating her identity as an artist, the construction of her portfolio and the importance of her training as a cultural manager at the Universitat internacional de Catalunya. Also, she tells us some details about her experience as a student in Barcelona and intern in Te Quiero Mucho
How do you describe your style as an artist?
It has been a big and long journey. For many artists currently, in illustration especially, it is such a hard thing to find your personal style and your personal preferences. In my case, I found a new love for traditional mediums over the last few years. So I would describe my style as very detailed but very psychological. Most of my artworks are about grief, sadness, or any other feeling which is relevant to my life on which is relevant to people around me.
How do you think you reflect that style as a cultural manager?
The fact that I had previous experience and I’m an established illustrator, and now after having attended the Master’s Degree in Arts and Cultural Management at UIC Barcelona, everything has helped me to discover my personal taste. This does not necessarily mean that something is good or bad, it means that I have a personal taste. It’s something I’ve worked hard to develop over the last months and even years. It has always been my dream to understand what I like and what I am personally interested in showing. Nowadays, after my studies and professional experiences, I have acquired more tools to understand not only how to develop that taste for the works that I personally consider incredible to show, but the ones that will be successful in making an exhibition. I am learning how to combine my style as an artist with the external factors that a manager must take into account.
What would you say is basic to create a successful and attractive exhibition?
I don’t think I can mention specific factors at the moment, I think it depends on the general classical perception, on the context and above all on the perspective. I think many things around culture, music, art, audiovisual experiences and any exhibition of this source is fully depending on a personal viewpoint. This is what I talk about always in my job practice: you are not rejected because of your art style or because you don’t know how to do stuff, you’re rejected because the other person has a vision about how everything should look like and maybe you just don’t fit with it. You should never minimize other people’s art or experiences or other people’s styles. I think all arts deserve some recognition but it’s a matter of personal taste, as we said before. Learning to have your own personal taste is a journey, but also turning that into a vision to share with others is a different journey altogether. For me, the Master in Cultural Management has helped me a lot to balance that quest to create successful projects while still striving for my values, my taste and my style.
How has been the process to create and work on your personal portfolio? It is something you recommend students to work on?
I personally do. I highly recommend having a portfolio, a website and even business cards. During my degree, I had the feeling that this idea was a bit silly and we didn’t use it, but nowadays in the world of social networking, it actually helps a lot to exchange contacts and find new interesting people.
The website itself I believe it’s really important for my practice right now. Currently, not only am I creating artworks and illustrations; but as well I’m doing a curatorship of exhibitions, I’m making exhibitions come to life from start to finish. So it was very essential for me to not only have everything on my CV, but to have an opportunity to send just one link which is going to show everything I’ve worked on. It has become a channel to showcase all the different things I can do, from illustrations, exhibitions, character creation and even promotional materials. I think it’s very important, not only for the show, but also because it’s the easiest way to communicate who you are as a creator.
What is the most significant lesson you take away from the Master’s Degree in Arts and Cultural Management?
One important thing I’ve learned is to appreciate my art and what I do but also how much time it takes. All artists and all creators must not only be paid. We should be paid more than we as a society have accepted. I still can see that art, graphic design and almost any other audiovisual art form are not considered proper jobs. It is a considerable effort that once you start to consider yourself and present yourself as a professional in those fields, people not only see you, but they start to appreciate your work more. That was a big change in terms of understanding the value of things. It was a crucial moment when I realized, during the Master’s, how much something should cost for all creators in the world, and I think it’s a very important issue that we need to talk about and that we should continue to explore and promote in society.
You did your professional internship at Te quiero mucho, an emerging gallery in Barcelona. Why were you interested in join this project? What are your duties and responsibilities?
So with Te quiero mucho we had an interesting journey. I was trying to find an internship which were close to me and close to my experience. So, Claudia Balboa, our amazing internship coordinator, took the time to understand my preferences and proposed to me Te quiero mucho. Ever since I had an eye on it, I realized this is my place. It has been a place that really motivates me to come every day and not only do my work, but to explore and expand the business. Feeling that I am in a place where I want to do my best to make the business work has been a very exciting process.
It’s such an incredible place for me because it has an incredible selection of artists and artworks. Our tastes collide to create a great professional environment and make this collaboration so successful. My responsibilities here are mainly the cataloging of the hundreds and thousands of posters, t-shirts, cards, and artworks in different formats; and I also collaborate with the design of postcards and promotional material. It is a space that makes me very happy.