I chatted with Ukrainian-born, Edmonton-based artist Oksana Zhelisko recently.
Oksana moved to Canada from Ukraine when she was 21 and has been here since. Her art is full of emotion and I encourage you check out her recent series on her social channels. She’s incredibly talented.
It took us a couple of tries to be able to connect for this chat. And, to do so, she joined me from her parked car, which I’m super grateful for because I learned so much from her. I hope you do too.
[Featured Artwork: “She Walks Alone” by Oksana Zhelisko. Oil on canvas. 22″ x 28″]
The following responses are lightly edited for length and clarity.
01. Rock, paper, or scissors?
02. What are three interesting facts about you?
A. I love to dance as much as I love to paint. This is probably my kind of getaway from reality. It helps me a lot to cope with anything going on in my life, which makes it part of my life as well. When I dance or paint, I take myself to another level. It’s a change of focus.
B. Since I come from Ukraine, people think I love to cook. But I hate cooking. *laughs* I do it because I have to not because I love it.
C. I had a dream when I was 16. I dreamed about having a Jeep and I dreamed of going to Venice. The Jeep is out of the question now, I’d rather have other cars but the dream of going to Venice is still on. It was supposed to happen, but COVID started.
03. Is art your career or a hobby? Or something else?
It’s my life. Since I’ve been a little kid it’s always been in me. I can physically get sick if I don’t paint. If I have any kind of troubles in my life that have nothing to do with my art or my career, art heals me. To be honest, I cannot see myself doing anything else.
04. Are you more productive at night or in the morning?
I’m a night owl. If I could, I would paint until 2 or 3 in the morning and sleep until noon but being a mother and a responsible person makes it hard (to stay up late).
05. What household chore do you actually enjoy?
I don’t love anything that has to do with chores because any of that stands in the way of me doing art. My house is clean and food is always on the table. Do I like it? No. Do I have to do it? Yes.
06. What is the main medium you use in your art?
Oils. It’s something that I fell in love with probably in the second year of University in Ukraine. Even though we had to work with so many options and choose our medium in fourth year, I fell in love with oils and they’re something that I don’t want to switch.
07. Where did your passion for art start?
My grandpa was always really artistic. So was my mom. Both of them acknowledged my passion for art and we’ve always been drawing together with my mom and my grandpa. Artistic vibes definitely were there.
Since they saw that passion of mine, both of them were extremely supportive. Unfortunately, my grandpa died when I was only six but all these warm memories about drawing together really stick with me. My mom, to this day, she is my hardest critic but the most honest — sometimes, too honest *laughs* — but it helps a lot. She’s been my big supporter.
08. What’s something you’ve been meaning to try but just haven’t got around to?
Dancing tango. That’s one of the things that I always wanted to learn but you have to have a good partner. It hasn’t happened yet but it’s still my goal.
09. What is your go-to band or singer?
When it comes to music, I pretty much listen to anything other than hard rock or country music. I can listen to anything from classical music to Latin music, some Ukrainian music. I’m in love with Jesse Cook and some of his songs. I’m excited to go to his concert in September.
10. Who are some of your favorite artists?
When it comes to artists, the modern artist I’m completely drawn to is Casey Baugh. I’ve been taking a bunch of his workshops. He’s been marrying the old style and new as much as Cesar Santos, David Kassan. But, as I go in stages, I kind of pick things that I love about them that inspire things to do in my own art .
11. What is your favorite color?
Green. But, at the same time, I don’t often use it in my work. When it comes to my art, it’s mostly warm colors: all of the reds, burgundy, fire, yellows.
12. What inspires your art?
People. Places. Colors. Anything that surrounds me. The thing is I work part time at The Paint Spot. It became my second family in the hardest time of my life but it also gives me a great boost when it comes to painting. When I’m around people that talk about art, it gives me lots of ideas.
To be honest, a lot of my ideas are born when I’m at The Paint Spot, when I’m working there, talking with people, receiving stock, going through oil paints, buying new colors. So, really, anything that surrounds me (inspires me).
But I do concentrate on series and I am trying to stay focused on series. So, at the moment, I’m trying to marry two components, which are my love for urban landscapes and figurative art.
13. What app do you use most often?
Probably Facebook and Instagram because those are two of my biggest platforms where I stay in touch with a bunch of artists. When you open my Instagram account it’s art, art, art, art.
14. What’s your favorite drink?
Cosmopolitan. Or cappuccino.
15. What is one common misconception about being an artist?
That we are crazy. *laughs*
I guess there is a little something there because it’s a completely different mindset because we all live in a world of colors and have a different perception of the world. We’re not crazy though.
16. What are you hilariously bad at?
You know what they say about a creative person: You tell them to do one thing and they’ll do everything. So, if someone tells me I can’t do it, I’ll prove them wrong. I can’t say there’s anything I’m truly bad at. Maybe if I could learn to fix cars…
17. What do you hope people get out of your art?
If my art can bring any kind of emotions, either it’s love or hate or any kind of conversation and even debate, I think I want that as an artist. I want their attention, either negative or positive.
The worst thing that ever happens, and especially if I’m in a show, is when people are just passing by, not even glimpsing.
It’s all about emotions and I feel like any kind of painting that I do — it doesn’t matter the genre — I’m thinking about the story. And my story is probably a little different than theirs (the viewer), and that’s the beauty of it. Every person who sees my art, one way or another, will create their own story. And most of the time when they ask what’s the story (behind a piece), I ask them what their story is. Only after hearing their story will I tell them my story. And, let me tell you, their story is always far more advanced than mine.