Silk road: why artist Ida Ivanka Kubler swapped high fashion for high art

International artist Ida Ivanka Kubler‘s career has been nothing if not unusual. Bored with its pervading post-communist greyness, she left the National Academy of Arts in Bulgaria, moved to Germany as a governess and now lives between London and New York. As her work graces Westbourne Grove Church Artspace, she talks to Flora Hughes-Onslow


When did you become an artist?

My mother enrolled me into arts school aged five and ten years later I had my first adult showcase in my Bulgarian hometown. Two of my works sold and my father couldn’t believe it – ‘how can people pay so much for art?’ he asked, incredulous. After living in Germany for some time, I returned to find my father had been giving away my paintings as gifts, not believing that they could possibly be worth much. My Grandma too had found an alternative use for my artwork – apparently my drawings were very useful for keeping the fires going to boil the milk! Art soon became secondary as I embarked upon a career in fashion design at 18 in order to help run my family’s clothing company. It was a wonderful experience; I was designing Pret A Porter in Paris and having shows in New York for which I created very small haute couture collections for boutiques and wealthy clients across America, including Karen Allen and Brooke Shields. But all the while I kept steadily painting on the side, then finally took the plunge and took it up full-time several years ago. I didn’t feel I could do the two simultaneously – it’s funny how fashion and art overlap yet somehow don’t seem to really like each other…


How did you make the transition back to art from fashion design?

Well, my decision to leave fashion design was heavily influenced by the economic crisis; I became quite ill from the stress of being responsible for so many employees within such a large company. So in 2008 I just decided to push past the fear, gave fashion up and enrolled in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art and Design.


How did the idea for  ‘Birth of an Idea’ come about?

When I started studying at Chelsea, they wanted to commission something both calming and inspirational for the library. I had been using silk cocoons artistically for as long as I can remember and the idea to painstakingly and delicately create something tangible for people to feel and connect with struck me as a therapeutic process in itself, so I set about planning the series.


Your work seems to have a strongly therapeutic element. Is that something you would agree with?

Oh yes, certainly. ‘Birth of An Idea’ was actually published in 2009 by the Baring Institute for Medical Research in the Netherlands, as they deemed its positive, calming and relaxing theme beneficial for people’s mental health. I also have a letter from a woman in London who said my art gave her hope; her daughter had had her heart operated on countless times, and she said that when she saw it after leaving the hospital the last time, she found the warm orange in the centre of the canvas inspiring and she just had to have it in her home. Now they own it and will treasure it and I am so glad it has helped them in some way. My representative in Norway is now talking to Norwegian hospitals about displaying my art in a room specifically designed to calm and nurture patients.


Where are you based?

As it’s pretty difficult and expensive to ship my artwork because it’s so delicate, I tend to produce work in the country I intend to sell it in. So I spent six months in New York last year, staying with my artist friend who works for Jeff Koons and has a house in the middle of a forest one hour from the city, with deer and blackberries all around you! Then I spent one month in Norway and two months in Bulgaria and Greece looking for cocoons. Then I spend the rest of the year in London – Chelsea normally.


What are you working on next?

I am looking for a bigger studio now, hopefully in west London. I am preparing a huge show for Norway in May, for which I have to create 30-odd pieces. I also have a friend in New York who is very keen on developing a show with me focused on sexuality. It might be quite a challenge to make a giant penis out of silk cocoons, but we’ll see! Currently I’m very happy dividing my time between London and New York, with stop-offs in Oslo, Greece, Bulgaria, France, the US and Japan – and now I am sourcing straw lace as well as silk cocoons. Who knows what is in store for the future, I haven’t mapped out my entire career but I just hope I can continue doing what I’m doing. From time-to-time, Grandma calls and asks: ‘Are you still doing these pictures? They haven’t given you a job yet?’


Ida’s work is currently on show at Westbourne Grove Church Artspace and her next solo exhibition will be held in Central Oslo in May 2014.

For further information and updates please visit the artist’s website:

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