Irene Penna is a Greek painter, born in Piraeus but working and living in Corfu island. She has studied the art of painting under accomplished Greek painters such as Spiros Alamanos and also icon painting in a monastery in Corfu. She has taken part in more than 60 group exhibitions throughout Greece and in Italy as well. She also has had five personal exhibitions. She is a very active artist, who has captured the interest of the local and national chess players and admirers, because she has created dozens of beautiful and mysterious chess paintings! Last year (2013) she was invited to exhibit her chess-works in the Individual Greek Chess Championship (u16) in Patras, where she impressed the public.
Angelina: It is a magical feeling to interview an artist, a painter, who has dedicated many of her works to the realm of the black and white squares. I have seen many of your works and they have the ability to absorb one into chess worlds beyond our reach or imagination. When did you start to paint about chess and how did you develop a passion for painting chess related themes?
Irene Penna: Painting is the greatest part of my life, but isn’t our life a game of chess as well? Thus life, art and the art of life (that is chess!) met in a moment where thought, subconsciously, wanted to be expressed. There they became linked and in a surreal language one day began the dictation of thought, without any conscious control. A desire was born that an image should be formed, above and beyond phenomena, in another reality, a kind of composition that depicts our external world and our internal pattern.
Angelina: What is chess to you? Do you perceive a mystery around it? Is it a way to express our souls desire or do you think that in its essence it is a sport, like any other sport?
Irene Penna: It is a game of complex thinking, highly intellectual that is a source of inspiration to me, and as I said earlier it is an illustration of life. The whole mystery of life is hidden in the alternation of white and black squares, of good and evil, of day and night, in duality in general. It always depends on which perspective you perceive this. If you see chess as a board game and a mental sport for two players that is played on a square diagram called chess board, over which the players are sitting opposite to each other and are moving the 16 white pieces the one, and the 16 black pieces the other in alternate moves, one by one according to the rules, this is a sport. Using the mind though, is very much more intense in chess, than in any other sport, especially if you judge how necessary self-awareness is, that allows one to combine knowledge, experience and talent in order to reach the pinnacle of one’s performance. Just like any decision, chess emanates from an internal procedure, either on the chess board or in the presidential hall or in a conference room, or on the kichen table. Furthermore, the way each player plays, shows elements of his character. Typical examples are the two great world champions and historical opponents, Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov. The one had a robust way of playing, with emphasis on the defense, while the other had a fancy and aggressive style.
Angelina: In many of your paintings you express a very beautiful and aesthetic side of chess, like the Butterfly Queen, without exaggerating beauty into dream or idealism. Is chess beautiful or do we make it beautiful?
Irene Penna: Chess itself has a symmetry and an inner beauty. The combinations that have a depth of many moves are bound to move us aesthetically. Like in all things, we have to be able to perceive its beauty. In any case, it is a field that offers opportunities for highly aesthetic artistic creations.
Angelina: Which is your favorite color?
Irene Penna: Red, the child of action and energy that attunes us to passion and power. It is a symbol of seduction, adventure and danger. It enchants us and causes the necessary aggression that enables us to dare face our fears, with the reward of a new, fuller life. Red it is! The color of blood!
Angelina: In chess, the queen is the most powerful piece of the board, but if the King is trapped the game ends! The female principle is once more depicted as the most energetic one and the male principle as the stable but essential one. In the Indian philosophy these are identical to the Shakti (nature) and Shiva (consciousness) principles. Do you see any parallels of the symbols present in chess to the symbols of other philosophies?
Irene Penna: Of course. The duality that I mentioned earlier is present in most philosophical – religious systems. In the philosophy of Tao it is the Yin – Yang, the active – passive, female – male, white -black, which are functioning complementary. In Manichaeism, duality is present in the forces of creation and destruction. Even in Christianity we have duality but there it is interesting to see the capabilities of the Queen and the pawn, in relation to the development of the rules and the emerging position of woman in these western Christian societies.
Angelina: When we met last year, you told me that you wanted to exhaust your chess inspiration into about 100 paintings. How far are you in achieving this?
Irene Penna: In the meeting that we had, I had already completed two solo exhibitions with the theme “Chess”, so I already had completed 35 paintings, which now are reaching 40. I do believe that with around 100 paintings I will have completed my thematic cycle of “Chess”. This will happen gradually though, as I am dealing with other themes as well, parallel to my chess themes. I like chess as a concept , symbolism and I wish to have it present in my art as I keep on creating.
Angelina: When you are working on a specific theme for a long time, do you feel completely absorbed by it?
Irene Penna: Generally, no. I am open to other stimuli that can trigger future subjects. Of course, when I am painting, I am absorbed by the theme and I am diving into its world. Also, as a matter of fact, painting takes up a great part of my life and a lot of times I need to study about it, which can also affect me as a person.
Angelina: How do non-chess people respond to your chess paintings?
Irene Penna: Some people remain purely on the aesthetic level, while others interpret the paintings according to their own perceptions and experiences, Others are asking me to express my view. In any case, there are not many who do not have even a little knowledge of chess and its basic principles.
Angelina: Which is your favorite painting so far?
Irene Penna: This is probably the most difficult questions, because its as if you are asking a parent, which of her child she loves the most. For purely and only personal reasons I have chosen the painting below that has a special meaning for me.
Angelina: What are your dreams and plans for the future?
Irene Penna: Generally I am planning to move on to exhibitions abroad and as a theme I have chosen one which I would like you to see once it has been completed. So its an excuse to meet and talk again! I am placing a lot of importance on the present moment though. It is the present that will give long lasting results. So I am making short term goals, like the completion of each painting, while giving the best that I can, overcoming obstacles and difficulties. In any case, I wish to be blessed in my life to remain active in painting, that is a medium of expressing my concerns and emotions. Emotions that have come to the surface with this very interesting and penetrating interview! And I thank you very much!
Angelina: Thank you as well Irene for sharing with us your enriching perspective on chess! All the best and until next time!
A beautiful compilation of some of her paintings on Youtube:
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