– Story by Sean McIntyre Photography by Lia Crowe
It was only after she returned home from a trip to the edge of the world that Ira Hoffecker felt she needed to take a giant leap.
Nearly 20 years ago, Ira, her husband and the couple’s two young children took a break from their movie-star -studded, jet-setting lifestyle in Berlin, Germany to rent a humble RV and explore Vancouver Island. The family could never have imagined how a trip designed for reconnection would alter the course of their lives.
“It’s like an epiphany what happened here in Canada,” Ira says.
In an interview at her home studio overlooking Langford Lake, Ira takes a moment to reflect on her life in Europe, noting how daring acts in the circus—which she loved to attend—can mimic life. Performers would amaze awestruck audience members, sitting on the edge of their seats, with one feat of daring and bravery after another.
“When you look at that person who does the salto mortale, there’s a special moment between when they let go [of the trapeze] and finally grab something again,” she says. “That’s how I see life, there is always a risk that you must take to try something new, but you should never be afraid to make that jump. You cannot discover a new coast without leaving the other one.”
Ira’s great leap from her career as an A-list cinema publicist, accustomed to hopping between the cities of Europe with the silver screen’s most recognizable faces, may have been momentarily disorienting, but she has certainly landed on her feet.
“Before moving to Canada, and before I began to study art formally 17 years ago, there was not a lot of time for painting at all,” she says. “The career shift happened somewhat gradually. At the beginning, I didn’t see it as a career shift at all. I just needed a long sabbatical from my work in the film industry and the medium I turned to was art.”
She began by transferring her perception of the world around her onto canvas. Ira soon enrolled at the Vancouver Island School of Art, where she earned a diploma of fine art and became an active member of the Federation of Canadian Artists. She has since pursued and completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and then a Master of Fine Arts degree.
Her earliest abstract works grew from a lifelong interest in maps. She blended these pragmatic images with her observations of the urban landscape, creating works that challenge the viewer’s perception of reality with ad-hoc shapes, off-set angles and multi-faceted layering.
One such piece features the grim, monolithic layout of a concentration camp layered with textured concrete tones and violent splashes of red. A more recent piece created during a residency in Buenos Aires, Argentina—just prior to the global pandemic—is based on the map of that city’s Parque de la Memoria with infusions of vibrant colours and patterns that evoke a mix of art deco, art nouveau and Argentina’s homegrown Madí art movement.
In both cases there is the pain. The layers of each work contribute to the story that Ira tells of a specific place and time.
“‘I translate how the city feels and the historic knowledge of the city into an abstract painting,” she says. “It’s my personal interpretation of a place in time. My work used to be much more specific, there were specific maps and buildings. That has shifted over time. Then I began to develop paintings that involve both organic and geometric forms, where aspects of one form concentration informed the other.”
Pieces for her latest exhibition, Transitions, scheduled to run at Victoria’s Fortune Gallery (537 Fisgard Street) from May 1 through May 23, were completed at her Langford studio, where her environment features a distinctively West Coast blend of evergreen woods, water and the ever-changing urban geography in one of the country’s fastest-growing communities.
With few exceptions, the works that make up the Transitions show have all been created since the pandemic began more than a year ago. What began as a period rife with claustrophobia and a sense of paralysis quickly set roots for a new routine and a new perspective. Like so many others faced with a spring lockdown, Ira found herself in her garden, wrist deep in topsoil and seedlings.
“I couldn’t even go through Langford, and so I painted what I saw,” she says. “I always have a good connection to where I am, so I began translating my experience here, and this evolved into extensive flower studies that resulted in a whole series.”
As spring turned to summer, the flower series grew into larger works in which maps reasserted themselves. The distant top-down view of earlier pieces, however, was replaced with a greater sense closeness, intrigue and suspense. It’s a new perspective, perhaps a result of a pandemic-induced introspection and a renewed sense of place.
“What I do now is definitely an urban space, but it isn’t a specific city anymore. I’m moving away from that, it’s not a specific map, it’s not a specific architecture, but I’m playing with perception and exploring depth,” she says. “I always looked at things from above and now, with these latest paintings, all of a sudden I have a foreground, and I enjoy that. I like to explore with that and work with this different perception. It shifts the work in a way that allows me to play with depth when I add the foreground.”
The paintings and portraits on the walls of her home capture Ira’s transition. An enormous abstract map of colours on canvas hangs on her living room wall, just around the corner from a lineup of signed celebrity photographs from another life. It’s a reminder of where she’s come from, a tribute to that great leap from there to here, the need to sacrifice a comfortable present for an uncertain future. Charting a new course represents Ira’s personal salto mortale, and it’s an inspiring transition she has accomplished with grace and sophistication.
More information about Ira’s work is available at irahoffecker.com. Details about her Transitions exhibition can be accessed at: fortunegallery.ca.