When you take a peek into Goko Rizov’s personal life, you realize how deeply he breathes and lives for his art, still holding onto his strict police discipline and analytical approach – something that he learned during his time in the Military Academy and police career as an inspector and later a deputy chief of the Economic and Cybercrime Unit in Skopje.
When the spiritual world comes at a crossroad, there are only 2 options: you either stay on the path that limits you and makes you happy just because it is familiar and is your comfort zone, desperately searching for external things to fill the gaps and make you happy and complete; or you make a step to the unknown and you hear yourself for the first time in your own life, so you hold on to it by taking a path into a completely different direction and thus leading to a fresh new life. Goko chose the latter, in the midst of a pandemic, in a foreign country, by leaving his police career behind dedicated fully to his life dream – art.
He says that Amsterdam is the city that sets him free and changes him. Trying to get into the art circles, Goko works two jobs, but he never puts down his brushes. So, in less than 4 months he manages to successfully present himself to the art lovers in the Netherlands with his art performance called “Reflections and Frames” through which he dives into the conscious and subconscious human tendencies to hide or mask their true emotions in order to avoid controversy or stay within social norms, and consequently depicting the process of self-acknowledgement.
Only ten days after this performance in the Netherlands, his works of art lead to collaboration with the renowned pianist and composer Margin Alexander from New York, who inspired by his paintings, along with the works of eleven other artists, includes Goko’s paintings in an international event called “Abstractions have voices”. In this event Margin performs compositions inspired by and composed specifically for the chosen works of art. Thus, Goko’s works truly got a voice.
Let’s start from the end to discover the beginning and the reasons why everything happened the way it did. Working as an assistant chief in the Economic and Cybercrime Unit, in the midst of a pandemic, you leave all behind and pursue your deep love for art, and not at home, but on a foreign ground – in Amsterdam?
Goko: It was not difficult at all for me to quit my job and the position I had in the Ministry of Interior. I took some vacation time and announced that after that I won’t be returning to work. So, I just simply said goodbye to my colleagues and I left. The more difficult part for me was parting from my family and close friends, but fortunately, there are frequent low-budget flights now, so we can easily manage the distance.
I sincerely see the pandemic as just an excuse, as many others such “reasons” that have been holding me back in the past. If I had waited more, maybe the ‘right time’ would have never come. I basically programmed myself not to be afraid, but curious and things began happening one after another.
In Macedonia, I had one or two unsuccessful attempts to take part in art projects, but as things stand there, if you are not a formally trained artist, you are immediately categorised as a bad amateur and there is little, if not, no space for broader affirmation.
Although I had been painting and successfully selling paintings in oil on canvas for years, I did nothing more than that, and I was aware of the fact, which confirmed to me on several occasions, that in Macedonia it is very hard even for the trained artists, let alone for amateurs like me with no formal education in arts, to get any space to prove themselves, so eventually my enthusiasm faded away.
Quite opposite from Macedonia, here in the Netherlands nobody cares whether I have art education, where I come from and who I am – they either like what they see or not. Dutch people and people who have come to live here are quite straightforward and there is no insincere politeness.
With more than 50 museums, countless galleries, events and art foundations, as well as the fact that one who merely speaks English can integrate easily without any problems in every area of social life, Amsterdam was the real choice to start my art career. Moreover, previously in 2017, in Amstelveen, Netherlands, I staged a solo exhibition which was a great success, so it seemed somehow logical to return here again.
During the last few years, you have been using unpaid vacation leave to spend some time and live in several European cities, such as Amsterdam, and to feel the city’s pulse. Do you remember how you were feeling after the first visit of Amsterdam?
Goko: I came to Amsterdam for the first time as a tourist in 2010, when the EU visas for non-EU citizens were abolished. At the time, I had been recently employed in the Ministry of Interior, so, for the first time, I could afford to travel further outside the Balkans, but I can say that I truly experienced the city even in 2015 when I stayed longer.
I can’t find the right words to describe the feeling of freedom mixed with all 180 different nationalities that live in the city. People here seem to have left aside all unnecessary frustrations and prejudices a long time ago, they celebrate and live life to the fullest, with all its beauty, and the city has a special magic to it, unrelated to all well-known stereotypes for Amsterdam. In all that freedom and immense choice, one can easily lose himself without enough focus and self-control.
I remember that I came back to Macedonia with a totally changed mindset, different energy, and all that mixed with the knowing that only 2000 km away from Skopje, art is put on a pedestal and it is celebrated every day.
Shortly after I returned home to Macedonia, I faced with everything that had bothered me before, which I wasn’t even aware of. I realized how much our surroundings affect us and that very often we don’t know how to enjoy life, how much we influence each other with our negative thinking and behaviour. We are repeatedly disappointed and unhappy and we mask ourselves behind toxic positivity.
After that, it didn’t take me so long to acclimatize all over completely to what is considered ‘normal’ in Macedonia. However, in the years that followed, on several occasions, I took unpaid vacation of three months and I travelled and lived abroad again.
Why the Military Academy, why not the Art Academy, and who influenced your choice the most?
Goko: At 14, when I finished middle school, I had to go to high school and the choice was between geodesy and art school, so eventually I decided on geodesy. The choice was mine, as my parents gave me the freedom to decide, but of course, this choice was indirectly influenced by plenty of common preconceptions of art as a profession. Being good at natural sciences, math and sport I decided to consider art as just a hobby for me at that time.
After high school, I wasn’t even thinking about art, so I decided to enrol the Military Academy in Skopje. It took me a while to realize that art is what makes me happy and keeps me moving in life, and not the ‘promising education’, the ‘steady job’, and a bunch of other norms imposed by society and similar prejudices that I had to dismiss later in life, which at the time influenced my ‘reasonable’ choice.
I find it interesting that you have been creating art for 18 years, which means that you discovered your passion at a relatively young age, but you still remained on the other path. What was the preconception that was the most difficult to overcome?
Goko: Looking back from today’s perspective, I wouldn’t have changed anything, as I consider the combination of the ‘other path’ and the creativity in me to be my most valuable asset. After four years spent at the Military Academy, followed by the police job, today I appreciate the great benefit in the whole process of migration and starting a new life far away from home. I can set my goals more clearly and stick to certain principles which truly help me as a person and in the process of creating and promotion of my art.
During my studies at the Military Academy, there were some seniors who valued art, so we found some mutual ground through establishing an art club where I could have my own space – an art studio, where I painted and kept in touch with art.
The biggest preconceptions that I had to overcome were those that art can’t be a profession to make a living from, and that I need formal art education to call myself an artist. An amateur artist is still an artist, as much as the artist who taped the banana on a wall at the gallery in Miami. Your job, money, and other material stuff are not essential for a happy and fulfilled life.
There is no security in life. That was just an illusion that prevented me to wake up the artist in me completely and to live my life to the fullest, to try to be happy with what I do. In life, it is never too late and it is never the right time.
A few years ago, you were struggling with depression and anxiety. Living in an environment as Macedonia, which moment in this whole fight was the hardest and who helped you the most and understood what you were going through?
Goko: I went through several periods in life when somehow unconsciously and without paying any special attention, I experienced states of depression, anxiety, or certain dissatisfaction, and sadly I mostly ignored these states. I believe that the terms ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ comprise a wide spectrum and each individual experiences and manifests them in a different manner. Although I was not officially diagnosed with depression and anxiety by a professional, deep inside of me there was often the sense of stuckness, worthlessness and self-sabotage that prevented me from having a quality life and healthy relationships with myself and the people around me.
In 2018, I had my biggest emotional struggles and triggers that pushed me towards the decision to visit a therapist and start psychotherapy, which actually was the hardest decision to make. At the beginning, I showed some rejection because I was “certain” that the therapist would tell me things I had already known, and I thought that eventually everything would come to place on its own and there is no need for a therapist. However, that was not the case.
Initially, I had a few failed attempts to start psychotherapy, but after visiting several therapists, I clicked with one of them and the process began. Going to psychotherapy really helped me to get to know myself, to turn off the autopilot and to take life in my own hands. Working on oneself is an endless process, but it has to start somewhere. I realized that therapists have no magic wands to solve your problems. However, they will initiate and help the process, and still I’m the one who must do all the work.
In the whole process of self-discovery, I realized that it is not a journey to become something, but not to remain something which I am not. The road of self-discovery is not easy at all, as I had to face with all the good, and more importantly, the bad sides inside of me, to accept them and take their power away through awareness and acknowledgment. I am glad that I accepted the fact that this is a long road and I am still walking on it.
At the beginning, I was not very comfortable talking about the fact that I see a psychotherapist, but later on, when I started working on myself I also started to talk about my experience more openly and I realized that a lot of people have already visited a therapist or they are thinking about doing that, so I concluded that every one of us went through or is going through certain emotional storms in life, even people we think do everything well. I’m happy that more and more people in Macedonia are willing to speak openly about the fight against depression, anxiety and similar conditions.
During the whole process, I had the support from my parents and a few close people, and I couldn’t be more thankful to them, but the biggest support and understanding I definitely got from my sister Tanja.
On August 21, in Amsterdam, you were part of the art exhibition by seven artists where you successfully staged your live art performance, and you called it “Reflections and Frames”. Your collaborator, Aleksandra, arrived from Vienna to be part of this performance. What was her role in it and what did you want to show the world through this performance?
Goko: I had the idea for the performance for a while, but it was abstract and not well defined. I applied to the open call from the gallery “Sound Light Color” where seven selected artist, including me, had to display their own art works, and during all those negotiations, completely by chance, I presented the idea for my art performance to the gallery curator, Gianna Di Biase. She was delighted and accepted it with great pleasure. At that moment, the performance wasn’t completely defined, so I experienced moments of panic, and later during the process itself, the ‘imposter syndrome’ was working heavily.
Over the next couple of weeks, I felt the creative madness, ideas were coming one after another. I met and got in touch with people who inspired me to conceptualize the whole performance. Alongside, I started painting a portrait intensively and to finalize all the details, and to my great pleasure, a lot of people joined in, gave me their support and helped me in the process.
We encountered a lot of obstacles since the time period was very short, but two days before the performance I stopped and let myself not be blocked by perfectionism. I told myself that even if I don’t succeed in making the things as I want, it is still the first time that I’m doing an art performance, and in the name of art, I’m doing something very personal and I want to present an idea which I honestly believe in. That was the moment when I felt relieved and after that everything came to place pretty easily.
It’s not an accident that Aleksandra Crvenkovski was included in the whole performance, because she has also gone through these similar emotional struggles, processes of self-analysis and self-discovery. Her deep reflections on these topics and the willingness to talk and express all her thoughts publicly were of great importance for the performance itself.
Through mirrors, portraits and faces, interacting with the visitors, the performance explores the conscious and unconscious tendencies to put on masks and label everything around us, wondering whether there is a ‘real face’ among us, and how often the face in the mirror is contrary to the image we present to the world.
What is that inside us that doesn’t allow us to show our emotional and vulnerable side sometimes? Why are we all trying to look happy, especially on social networks, or on portraits? Do we sometimes put more energy in looking happy in front of the world rather than in working more on being truly happy inside? That is why, very often, happiness, sadness, depression, anxiety and other states and emotions seem unrecognisable on the face?
Through the performance, I’m trying to visualize the question how we are in front of ourselves, how we present in front of other people, and how other people perceive us, how long we can look at ourselves in the mirror the way we really are or the way we think we are, and whether we are ready to discover our ‘real face’ and show it to the world. Which excuses do we use to change our reflection in the mirror and to be really happy?
The performance includes a portrait of Aleksandra, who is also present with a contradictory reflection in the mirror. Me personally, I don’t stay too long in front of the mirror, I leave with the most common excuse: “not today, probably not tomorrow, but soon”, as I step back and leave the mirror to the visitors.
In the future, the performance will be developed and transformed, other participants will join in, the whole concept will be developed and visualized in a more essential sense, it will travel and be staged on a few locations in Europe, and hopefully wider.
Does the life outside of Macedonia make you feel free? Do you allow yourself now to wear your real mask more often and where do you mostly feel that change in you?
Goko: Yes, life out of Macedonia gave me freedom; I don’t follow politics, all the frustrations and disappointments caused by the dysfunctional system that hasn’t changed for decades were gone very fast after I changed my environment. The absence of all this is like a breath of fresh air.
When I arrived in the Netherlands, at the airport there were ‘curators from 10 different galleries with brushes in their hands, waiting for me on a red carpet, and I, the artist just had to decide where to start from’. And start I did. At first, I was washing dishes in a restaurant for two months and even today after five months in Amsterdam, apart from my artistic engagements I still work in a warehouse-factory.
I was well aware that migration wouldn’t be easy and I wouldn’t be successful overnight. However, I knew that I was going to be in a place where things function better and I will be in a place full of possibilities for me as an artist. The system in the Netherlands offers free language courses and trainings, as well as countless other possibilities for personal development. There are numerous foundations for artists, and I truly hope that one day my art would be sufficient to pay my bills.
I think that the real mask or, more precisely said, the real face, does not exist, but even if it did exist, in some way it would be fluid like everything else around us. We are constantly in a certain state of evolution, growth, development, adaptation, and that is changing us in every sense.
Personally, I’m not the same as I was a year or a couple of years ago, and thank God it’s like that. I mostly felt the change in my inner peace, the feeling of self-worth and satisfaction, the energy and the determination to exploit all possibilities and make my dreams come true.
On August 31, you also took part in the online event “Abstractions Have Voices” from the well- known composer and pianist Margin Alexander from New York, where Margin, inspired by the art works from a dozen of artists, created a composition for each of the works of art that inspired him. How did it come to this collaboration, and do you feel that your art finally got a voice?
Goko: The collaboration with Margin Alexander started by chance in early March this year, when Margin commented on one of my paintings posted on my Instagram account, where he expressed his admiration on a painting and asked for my permission to display my paintings as part of his art music project scheduled for March 21.
The communication continued through messages on Instagram, where he presented the whole event and his idea to me. In the following period, nothing happened in this direction, and I had already started with preparations to leave Macedonia.
Several months later, in July, when I had already moved to the Netherlands, I received a message from Margin again and he informed me that the event would take place on August 31. At the event, he would compose and perform an art work inspired by my paintings and the art works by eleven other artists from around the globe.
In the meantime, on August 18, Margin had a concert in Amsterdam, and we arranged to meet personally. In the next few days, I received all the event details and instructions from his managing team via e-mail.
On August 31 in New York, my art literally got a voice – a beautiful tune composed and performed by Margin Alexander. The video from the event has been sent to more curators and art galleries in the USA, so at the moment, I have several negotiations for collaboration, and hopefully something specific will come up very soon.
You say: “Just create, art is cheaper than therapy” How is art ‘saving’ you?
Goko: Art had been saving me even before I was even aware of it. I have been painting since a very young age, but at 17 I started with the technique oil on canvas. Since then, I have made a few breaks, but after a while I have always come back and I have never left painting, and painting has never left me.
When I look at my paintings made ten or more years ago from a today’s perspective, I can see and understand the emotion that I was unconsciously expressing and the story that I was trying to tell, as a therapy that I needed at the moment.
My paintings had understood me way before I tried to understand myself. I wholeheartedly believe that painting is still the best therapy I had – It’s a moment of meditation, a state of powerful sensations and emotions which were transferred on my canvases creating my very personal works of art.
Some of Goko’s art: