The Winner’s Circle at 311 Gallery in Raleigh North Carolina

Ushakova,  Cyclamens

Ushakova, Cyclamens

Nawrocki,  Dark Passage

Nawrocki, Dark Passage

Olsen,  Pretty in Pink

Olsen, Pretty in Pink

Greene,  Abstract Architecture #3

Greene, Abstract Architecture #3

Raleigh North Carolina art gallery - 311 Gallery features Winner’s Circle

Every year, 311 Gallery hosts The Winner’s Circle, an exhibition of work of the artists who took first place in our national juried shows from the preceding year. This year’s artists are: Richard Greene, Landscapes and Seascapes; Heather Olsen, Black and White; Irina Ushakova, winner of 2 shows, Flowers and Gardens and Pets and People; and Selena Nawrocki, Abstract Art.

Richard Greene is both a gifted musician and photographer. When describing his arts, he uses the terms expression, innovation, technique, and composition; the origin of both is seeing. The photographs he selected for this exhibition portray landscapes that tell a story and landscapes that are more musical.

Using infrared technology, Richard has created images that take the viewer back in time, recreating a nostalgic vision that is not always peaceful. His series of The Old Atlanta Prison Farm tell the story of “past inhabitants, lost souls, in the abandoned cells and dark, gloomy hallways.” In other Texas towns, infrared creates a backdrop where you can feel the children that played in the old playground and the farmers that hung out at the old Gas Station.

Richard’s abstract architecture is more musical. The images are “full of harmonies, counterpoint, fugue and cross rhythms” created by captivating lines and patterns composed of steel, brick, glass, and concrete.

Serena Nawrocki, a professor of interior design, also plays with line and pattern. Her work revolves around the symbolic meanings of ascending, a positive, purposeful journey and descending, negative and confusing. She combines both curving and angular staircases to create a sense of movement along a complicated, mysterious path that ultimately unites places, ideas, and emotions.

Irina Ushakova creates stunning still life paintings and portraits. She works primarily in oil because she loves their density, oiliness, viscosity and color saturation. Color captures her energy and reflects the inspiration Impressionism and Realism have had on her work. She is fascinated by the power of light; how light draws your attention and changes perspective. Light is pervasive in her paintings, creating a warm, optimistic glow.

Irina grew up in Russia where she taught art. In 2012, her husband’s job took them to Cambridge, UK where she began to paint regularly. In 2016, they moved to the US. Her work is inspired by her environment, from architectural landscapes to still lifes of flowers, fruit, and beloved stuffed animals.

Using a style popular with the Impressionists, Heather Olsen paints in a style called alla prima, an oil painting technique where layers of paint are applied wet on wet, retaining freshness and spontaneity, giving the work an ephemeral quality. The process of alla prima skips the underpainting or sketch, diving right in with paint, making every single brush stroke important.

Heather’s portraits, be they people or animal, yield a profound insight into the subject’s soul. They are about emotion and inner strength. Heather believes that “whether we have opposable thumbs, a wet nose, a beak, or even scales, all creatures are important and just want to be respected and loved.”

Heather grew up in a house dominated by women so it’s not surprising that most of her subjects are female. Having struggled with self esteem, she uses her work to “inspire the viewer to search within for their inner self confidence.” Adjectives that describe her work include powerful, strong, tenacious, confident, independent, empowered, and beautiful just the way they are.

On the surface, this year’s Winner’s Circle has brought together the work of a diverse group of artists. After studying their work and reading their stories, I am drawn to the theme that pervades their work. They tell the story of optimism and hope with empathy.

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