Iryna Kanishcheva was born and raised in Ukraine where she had a successful career working in the pharmaceutical sector. She completely changed her focus when she moved to the USA in 2013.

Iryna founded and curated the first urban art project in North Florida, 352walls, and was awarded the 2015 “Public Art Award”.
IN 2016 she 
co-founded and co-curated ArtUnitedUs in Kiev (Ukraine), a well-known project for its large scale murals.
She also co-founded and curated  Grove Street Neighborhood, a project that brings together Gainesville residents and regional artists…
In addition, Iryna was the Urban Art Consultant for Art (Re)Public in Jacksonville (Florida), the city’s first international art and mural expo.

As a photographer, Iryna has contributed to numerous publications, and her photographs were exhibited in the Historic Thomas Center and Gary R. Libby Gallery in Gainesville (FL), Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg (FL) and more regional galleries. Her first international solo show was in her hometown, Kiev, America House Kyiv gallery.

Following her latest solo show “layers” in the University of Florida, I sat down with Iryna and asked her a few questions about the show, her projects, and upcoming plans.

Hello Iryna! Thanks for participating in the Street Art United States interview series. Could you tell about your recent show Layers in the University of Florida in Gainesville? How the idea for the show came about?

Hello! Honor to be interviewed by SAUS!

The show was dedicated to the 1,120-foot-long retaining wall in Gainesville that has been covered with layers of graffiti since approximately 1979. One writes just a tag, other wishes Happy Birthday, there are supporters and provocateurs, kids that practice with letters and old school graffiti pioneers – all that was accumulated in the thick layer of paint. This is the history of our town. The heaviest pieces with hundreds of layers of paint occasionally fall off on the ground. I picked some pieces for public display and shared chips of it with visitors at the show. The photo collection depicted aesthetically beautiful details of the wall. It was accomplished as part of my recent study of abstract photography in urban art.

The exhibition was held at the Garry R. Libby gallery located in the building of College of Arts in the University of Florida. I wanted for students to learn more about graffiti and the process of creating murals, as well as the ecological aspect of this form of art, and it can be done without harming our planet? Visitors were able to see, touch and feel the creative process through photographs, video projection and installations placed in various locations inside the gallery space.

Are there any pieces of the exhibition in particular that standout for you? And why?

Yes. There were two exhibits to acknowledge some art pieces created during my first project 352walls that I curated. Both expositions give an insight to the process of creation, introduce the viewer to the artists’ world:

1- Add Fuel aka Diogo Machado, an accomplished graphic designer and illustrator, created a series of painted electrical enclosures throughout downtown Gainesville. The art interventions are based on the ongoing reinterpretations of traditional Portuguese tiles but, with Florida’s fauna. Each painting (utility box) is a small homage to one of the many animals found in the Sunshine State. I am really proud of this series because to me it is a perfect way to decorate such equipment. Not to mention that it was Diogo’s first work in the USA!

2- AEC and Waone, better known as Interesni Kazki, created the most adorable and biggest mural to date in Gainesville, which was the last collaborative artwork between artists, before going their separate ways, each pursuing successfully their respective solo careers.
WAONE’s part of the mural was titled “Irretrievable Time is Flying,” which was dedicated to the University of Florida, and portrayed the value of time in terms of cultural achievements, as well as for the ongoing growth and development of science and technology.
The exposition includes photographs of the progress and installation with  the artist’s clothes, shoes, and supplies depicted in the photographs.

You’ve contributed so much into the street art world in so little time. What difficulties, if any, have you faced? And what did you learn from them?

The most difficult part is finding a good reliable sponsor that would not let you down during the project and doesn’t take advantage of you in the end. Very often you see in the media the names of the sponsors, but not those who really did most of the job. I had issues when a sponsor turned down a project at the last minute and I failed the artist in the process. Things like that! Also, it’s very important is to have a team you can trust. Many times mistakes are done because of one weak link that affects the whole chain. I learned a lot the past several years. The main lesson is, if you want to do something perfectly better do it yourself (or at least carefully control).

How is it for you, as a woman to express yourself in a non-native language, in a field (street art) that is somehow still considered a boy’s club?

To be a foreigner is already hard. I had a lot difficulties giving presentations and writing emails. It’s like doing something in the dark where you’d guess things rather than seeing them. It makes everything more complicated. I remember having headaches after 2-hour meetings and discussions because I had to concentrate not only on ideas but understanding everything that’s been said! At the same time, this work made me learn my third language faster 🙂

Street art is a boy’s club mainly because of the stress, physical and emotional aspects. It can be really tough sometimes. Although, I know many female artists that complain less than males… Women have developed the “male” strength in recent years, however, men still appear to be more persuasive, unfortunately. I personally do not have problems being a woman.

Of all the projects that you were involved in, which one was the most rewarding for you? And why?

Art United Us gave me a lot of experience and connections. I used to communicate with 80 (!) internationally accomplished artists at a time, who were invited to paint in Kiev. It was hard to keep track of all the conversations! Despite the fact only 50 of them finally created artworks for us, I remained friends with many who didn’t come. It wasn’t rewarding financially, I worked for free for almost two years, but it was worth it! At least, I have a special gratitude with the signature of Vitali Klitschko, the Mayer of Kiev and famous boxer 🙂

Outside of work, and away from screens, what activities occupy your time? 

I am connoisseur in underground electronic music 🙂 I love going to parties and can drive 5 hours to Miami and back just to hear somebody in particular. I do not miss any good parties in Gainesville, but of course, it is not comparable with New York, LA and even my hometown Kiev in this term. As I joked at the Atlas Weekend in Ukraine this summer, dancing along Prodigy, Goldie and other big names, “The country that suffers from a war does parties that I can only dream about in one of the safest USA cities, Gainesville.” In fact, some day I hope to combine one of my mural projects with an outstanding techno.

Tell us something about you that would surprise our readers?

For those who are familiar with my biography it won’t be surprising, but most people do not know that I actually had a really good career in the pharmaceutical business. I started as a pharmacist in a drugstore located in the junkie area in Kiev. Ukrainian pharmacies differ a lot from American and European… You have to be also a doctor, because many people go rather to the pharmacy than physician.  You have to be able to recognize the problem and advise a current relieve that wouldn’t be harmful for somebody’s health. I had to deal with sick people, cash, scammers and drug addicts. I knew in advance the full list of all the supportive ingredients to cook meth (peroxide, iodine, pipette, syringe and so on) and guys who came to buy it often laughed at it…  Later I grew up to a Field Force Manager in a pharmaceutical company and had to sell medicines that I didn’t really believe in. Art field seems to me less stressful, for sure! 🙂

What can we look forward to seeing from you next? What projects do you have planned?

Currently, I am managing the international relations for the Basel House mural festival that will be held in Wynwood (Miami)  during Art Basel in December 2017.
I am doing some charity work for Gainesville community, organizing murals in the Sidney school for disabled children and Tom Petty Tribute mural on his Birthday.
I also have a project that I am working on, but I am taking my time weighing many factors before running it. In my opinion, there are too many similar mural festivals in the world, some walls of which do not make the streets prettier. I am not interested in producing one more. The biggest plan now is to start my Graduate program in University of Florida, specifically Museology at School of Art + Art History. Right in that building where this exhibition was hosted.

Iryna thank you for your time, and wish you the best of luck!

Iryna Kanishcheva: website | facebook | instagram

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