Irina Starzhenetskaya was born in 1943 as a Muscovite in Uzbekistan. Her mother, a decorative painter at the Bolshoi Theater, had been evacuated with the theater to Uzbekistan during the second World War. After the war they returned to Moscow, where Irina received her artistic training. She first attended the six-year Art School, after which she was accepted in 1962 at the renowned Surikov Art Academy. At which she graduated in 1968. A year later, in 1969, she was admitted to “The USSR Union of Artists”, an organization that supported and followed the most talented artists of the Soviet Republic in their careers. From this year on she has increasingly participated in major exhibitions, such as in the Tretyakow Museum in Moscow, the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, the Karnegy Library in Washington and at special locations in Florence, Venice, London and Oslo, among others.
Starzhenetskaya’s work can be characterized as abstracting figurative with a strong expressionist method. She sets up her compositions large and strong, with a broad brushstroke and a loose but powerful touch. Still lifes and landscapes make up a large part of her oeuvre, in which the color areas are warm in tone and elaborate, but never painted tight. The balance between abstraction and figuration, which we encounter in the work of her great compatriot Wassili Kandinski before he went to full abstraction, is recalled in Starzhenetskaya’s paintings. She also shares with him the view that color has its own, autonomous effect, without losing the substance of the painting. “Color must be portrayed associatively, so that the substantive expressiveness of the work can be strengthened”, she says. She sees colors – just like Kandinski – as sounds and the artist needs a good ‘hearing’ to find his own voice, read ‘path’, among all the sounds.
Painting Irina Starzhenetskaya sees as associatively following a path that can find its course from silence and emptiness. It is not the rational will, but the desire and the openness to what you encounter while painting that determines the creation of a work of art. “You do need the will to correct mistakes,” she says.
Spirituality plays a major role in her work. It is not surprising that, in addition to her free work, she also painted a Russian Orthodox church according to the Byzantine canon with great religious devotion. This church is located in the old town of Tarusa, 100 km south of Moscow, and is also the last residence and resting place of her great compatriot the writer Konstantin Paustovski. Her intriguing landscapes and still lifes have been created with the same integrity and with the same talent with which she has portrayed New and Old Testament scenes.