History, culture and portraiture

Portrait by Olexandra SolomkaIt’s amazing what interesting and creative things people get up to during the time you don’t spend with them, and my course mates on the MA History and Culture of Fashion (now MA Fashion Cultures) at London College of Fashion are an excellent example of that. We came from all sorts of academic backgrounds and I discovered at our first ‘getting to know you’ session that Olexandra Solomka came from the BA (Hons) Fine Art course at Loughborough University. What I didn’t know was that she was, and is, still painting portraits.

Since completing her BA in 2013, Olexa she has been focusing on portraiture – drawing influences from Tudor age portraiture, as well as Eastern European iconography and folk art – working in oil paint for the portrait and acrylics for backgrounds, as she finds the nature of oil paint reflects the qualities of skin, while acrylic paint has the vivid and bright quality seen in iconography/folk art. Olexa’s MA dissertation, ‘Ukrainian Fashionability’ investigated the emerging and growing Ukrainian fashion industry and, as explained on her Showtime profile, she focused on Ukraine due to her heritage.

Growing up in an isolated Norfolk village, I was always aware of being the ‘other’, while my name was the only indicator of my non-British ancestry, my Ukrainian heritage was always perceived, by my peers, as a negative trait. Throughout school, I never focused on my families culture, desperately wishing I was named ‘Jane Smith’, or something equally as British. As I entered University, however, my attitude towards my Ukrainian heritage became something I wanted to explore and emphasise, it became one of my favourite things about myself.

This pride is something felt by many Ukrainians, having been subjected to suppression for an incredibly long time, the country is entering a revolution to independence from Russia, hence why I focused on Ukrainian fashion for my MA dissertation […] My Ukrainian heritage also influences my artwork.

"The Woman in Green" by Olexandra SolomkaIt’s really fascinating to see how Olexa has explored aspects of her family’s background and heritage via her academic research and written work, as well as through her portraiture. I was delighted to discover that she will be exhibiting six paintings at Leyden Gallery’s Platform for Emerging Arts this month, and so wanted to share some of her work with you in advance of the show. The press release for the show says:

The Platform for Emerging Arts exhibitions are an important and distinctive element of Leyden Gallery’s on-going dedication to the discovery and development of emerging artists. As such Leyden Gallery is delighted to present their fifth Platform for Emerging Arts exhibition. This is their largest Platform show to date, with an impressive range of artists working in mediums as diverse as wool, biro and oil. From abstract painting to the detailed precision of drawing, the Platform for Emerging Arts shows are a curatorial vehicle for a brilliant international group of emerging artists at various stages of their development and careers.

Olexandra Solomka will be exhibiting a selection of her paintings as part of Platform for Emerging Arts 5 at Leyden Gallery, 9/9a Leyden Street London E1 7LE. The exhibition runs from 18th to 28th February 2015. You can also view more of Olexa’s paintings on her website.

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