Olexander Wlasenko was born in 1972 in Oshawa, Ontario, an industrial city east of Toronto.  A first generation Canadian, Olex grew up connected to his Ukrainian heritage through family stories, culture, books, and film.

Although exposed to art from an early age, it was not until the mid-80’s that Olexander fully realized that art was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.  Two shows by Ukrainian-Canadian artists in particular influenced his thinking.

The first was Kurelek’s Vision Of Canada, a retrospective of the works of painter William Kurelek (1927-1977) that toured the country through 1983-1984.  The second was Behind The Irony Curtain (1986), by Toronto-based artist Natalka Husar.

Artist & Station Gallery Curator Olexander Wlasenko.

Artist & Station Gallery Curator Olexander Wlasenko.

Olexander lists his later inspirations as Gerhard Richter, Edgar Degas, William Ventridge, Vija Celmins, and Norwegian figurative painter Odd Nerdrum.  Closer to home, Olexander credits OCA instructors Husar (for her impact) and Cathy Daley (for encouraging him to draw) as early mentors.  Olexander also credits Margaret Priest, a professor at the University Of Guelph, for developing rigour in his work.  Finally, he acknowledges Sheila Butler, his thesis advisor at Western, for her support and for fostering a firm theoretical grounding in his chosen medium.

Why drawings?  Why pigment on paper?  In Olexander’s words, because of the form’s “immediacy” and because it “evokes neo-classicism”.

As for subject matter, Olexander’s work has often mirrored social realism and Ukrainian and Eastern European visual history.  In recent years, Olexander has found more diverse sources for his work.  The contemporary blue-collar subjects of for all (2001) for example.  And then there’s Claudia …The “Claudia Cardinale” series of drawings, based on film stills found while on a trip to Italy, have been very popular with patrons (and judges) of the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition.  One of Olex’s images, “Claudia With Phone” (2002) was even used to promote the event.  In the end though, Olexander continues to return to his Ukrainian roots as a touchstone for meaningful reflection and refining his craft.  Read more about Olexander’s most recent exhibition As We Slept.