“Reflections” exhibition and sale by Roksolyana Pidhainy-Benoit
The Canadian-born artist of Ukrainian origin unveils a stunning collection of 18 pastels drawn between 1997 and 2017 at the Taras Shevchenko Museum
By: Ayah Victoria McKhail
It’s a warm and sunny autumn afternoon and Roksolyana Pidhainy-Benoit, the beautiful, blonde-haired and hazel-eyed artist with the sun-kissed glow radiates a sense of passion and enthusiasm as she discusses her art work.
Born in Newmarket, Ontario to parents of Ukrainian origin, the precocious child was raised in both Toronto, Ontario and Auburn, Alabama. Her father, Dr. Oleh Pidhainy, taught Ukrainian history at various universities, while her dynamic mother, Mrs. Mary Pidhainy, worked both inside and outside the home and was the anchor in a household of five children.With a love for the arts that began to flourish in her formative years, it was only natural that she chose to pursue studies at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD), where she specialized in drawing and painting; graduating in 1997.
She counts renowned masters such as Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas and Rembrandt van Rijn as having a profound effect on her work as an artist. However, she’s also been influenced by the legendary Ukrainian poet and artist Taras Shevchenko, in addition to William Kurelek, the Alberta-born artist who achieved much acclaim and was also of Ukrainian origin.
Growing up, she wholeheartedly embraced the richness and uniqueness of the cultures and societies she was exposed to. However, culturally, she identifies herself as Ukrainian, noting that she honours the country’s customs and traditions when celebrating holidays, such as Easter and Christmas with her husband Stephen, her nine-year-old daughter, Sophia and their extended family.
Her cultural connectedness to Ukraine also manifests itself in the kitchen, in addition to having a substantial impact on her work as an artist. For example, she enjoys gathering vegetables from her mother’s garden in order to make a variety of soups, such as potato, leek, chicken and turkey.
A connection to the Earth is an integral aspect of Ukrainian culture and she embodies it. It’s only natural, then, that she would choose to depict borscht, which is essentially a beet-based soup, in her art work. For example, in her drawing Hommage to Borscht, a medley of vegetables can be seen. The warm tones and interplay of bold and subtle lines emanate richness and authenticity.This might leave spectators wondering if she can cook it as good as she drew it. “I still leave making borscht and varenyky (dumplings) to my mother,” she smiles.
Fittingly, her drawing Mother’s Kitchen continues on the soulful theme of hearth. A cooking scene is illustrated, complete with a pot full of vegetables, a cutting board and a ladle. Lively and vivid, the colours burst to the fore.
However, her ultimate passion lies in portraiture. “A portrait is a window into the state and the soul; a dance between the artist and the subject,” she says. For example, her father appears in Old Cossack. With a pensive look on his face, his eyes are cast downwards. He has salt-and-pepper hair and the fine lines on his forehead indicate a life well-lived.
Ultimately, she values the infinite possibilities of art as a creative form of self-expression. “What’s most appealing and inspiring about it is that you can take aspects from your own culture and that of others and meld them into something uniquely your own.”That’s precisely what she’s done and with the mesmerizing kaleidoscope of colours that’s notable in all of her works, their sheer magnitude and brilliance are sure to be cherished.
The opening reception for the “Reflections” exhibition and sale will take place on Saturday October 28, 2017 from 3:30-6:00 pm and continue until Friday December 15, 2017.
The Taras Shevchenko Museum is located at 1614 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON M6P 1A7 Tel: 416.534.8662 Gallery hours: Mon-Wed and Fri: 10 am-4 pm; Thurs: 12-7 pm and weekends and holidays: by appointment. Although admission is free, donations are greatly appreciated.