Petal Power: The Art of Irena Sherstyuk

Irena Sherstyuk creates mesmerizing paintings of psychedelic flowers and young lovers in abstract cityscapes. Her work is attracting attention at galleries across Canada.

OTTAWA LIFE: When did you decide to become a professional painter?

IRENA SHERSTYUK: From an early age, I always liked to paint and it was something that gave me joy. I have two professional degrees and I worked as an engineer and as a teacher in Ukraine. Only here in Canada did I finally have an opportunity to start to paint. Since 2000, I’ve been painting full time.  You can tell how happy I am here when you look at my paintings. They are full of optimistic, joyful bright colours. People said to me that my art resonates with them, calls out on their deepest emotions – recollections of happy childhood memories, or an evening spent with a loved one dreaming of the future.

My style involves using a palette knife to create texture. It’s called impasto (a technique used in painting, where paint is laid on an area of the surface, usually thick enough that the brush or painting-knife strokes are visible). I paint with bold strokes and I use mixed-media acrylics.

OTTAWA LIFE: There is a fantasy element to your art, isn’t there?

IRENA SHERSTYUK: Yes and no. To paint flowers, I use my own photos or even dry flowers – Mother Nature has so much whimsy and vividness for me to use. But for composition, I use my imagination. Many artists paint flowers, but not quite this way. I have to imagine it until I can see a painting in my mind’s eye. Every vivid detail is created in my imagination. When I start a painting, I can’t stop until I’m finished, however long it takes. Once the painting is done, it is whole and complete and I rarely add anything else later on.

Cityscapes with romantic clusters of people strolling among skyscrapers are another common theme in my art. I also paint abstract musical instruments where I try to fuse beautiful melodies of piano and saxophone and capture the essence of music.  But I like painting flowers the most. My Ukrainian roots remind me about our folk costumes, which are richly embroidered with endless flowers. Women wear a head piece (vinok) – a headband – covered with flowers with long flowing ribbons down the back.

OTTAWA LIFE: What about your next series of thematic art pieces? What are you working on now?

IRENA SHERSTYUK: In the future, I’d like to work on more abstract compositions… flowers and cityscapes, but more abstract than my earlier paintings.

OTTAWA LIFE: Is it challenging to succeed as an artist in Ottawa?

IRENA SHERSTYUK: It is not easy. The Rothwell Gallery is representing me here in Ottawa. Sometimes I participate in different shows. In 2011, there was a show in Gatineau – Exhibition Images on Canvas – and I was awarded First Place in People’s Choice. I sold five paintings at that show.

I am a member of Visual Arts Ontario, the East Central Ontario Art Association (ECOAA) and the Ottawa West Arts Association in Stittsville. My work has been displayed in galleries – the Ambiance Gallery and Galerie d’Art Le Bourget in Montreal. I’m looking to expand, to have more galleries represent me, in Toronto, Calgary and Saskatoon.

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