Early Inspiration, Late Career. Olga Strokan Explores What It Means to Become an Artist Late in Life

When Olga Strokan was a young girl she was surrounded by art. It didn’t take long for her to realize that becoming an artist would be her calling, unfortunately it happened to be a calling that she didn’t have an opportunity to pursue until much later in life. A move to the United States to be closer to family gave her the freedom to explore her passions. Now, she’s just three years into not just creating this work, but showing it to the public.


We spoke to Olga about her current solo exhibition at Twenty-Two Gallery, In Tune with Time, on display through August 5, and where her newfound well of inspiration comes from.


What is your background as an artist? Did you study art formally?

I was born and raised in Russia. I graduated from the St. Petersburg Stieglitz State Academy of Art and Design as well as The Art College of Serov. Later in life, I worked as a Page Designer for Bazaar Saint Petersburg Magazine, which gave me experience as a graphic designer.


When did you first decide that art was the path you were meant to pursue?

I started attending art school when I was a little girl. I was in the sixth grade. That’s when I realized I wanted to become an artist.


And what was it about art that attracted you so strongly at that early age?

At first as a little girl I became attracted to the idea of copying images of princesses and princes dressed in beautiful outfits, so I just started copying images from books. Later in life, once I started attending those classes, I started learning more about the amazing world of art. I also played piano and did ballet, so I was very creative as a child. A combination of dance and music and painting was my world. I got captivated by all aspects of art.


Why choose visual art?

I really liked my surroundings at art school, all the artists that I met. That ultimately pushed me to pursue my career in art and become a painter. Now, as an adult, I realize that might have been destiny. I like the idea of being able to transfer my feelings, emotions, and thoughts to paper so that others can see them.


Why blend graphic design with watercolor in your work?

It happened naturally. I spent so much time advancing in graphic design. At the same time, I learned how to work in watercolor techniques for so many years. I got really inspired while working on this one piece of art, and started working on alternate ways to express myself. That was when I realized I could combine the knowledge of digital design and classic watercolor techniques, and that’s how my new technique emerged and came to life.


"Spring is Coming", mixed media, 32 x 24 in. by Olga Strokan
“Spring is Coming”, mixed media, 32 x 24 in. by Olga Strokan

Do you remember what the piece was that you were working on?

That’s a piece called “Spring Is Coming,” it’s a piece that’s featured at my exhibition at Twenty-Two Gallery, it has a lot of sentimental meaning to me for that reason.


It’s a very fitting title. I read that you’re also inspired by capturing time. What is it about that practice that draws you to it?

I came to a realization that when an idea is born, and when I get inspired, it’s very important to cherish that inspiration and concentrate and focus and start working and painting and creating right away. It comes and goes away. It’s important to catch the momentum. I can ultimately stop time, stop the moment, by capturing my exact feelings at that specific moment.


Is there something unique about art that allows you to freeze time in that way?

I got really inspired by the French Impressionists; Gustav Klimt is another one of my favorite artists. And their idea of capturing a moment, instead of working in a closed studio, going outside and capturing nature, is inspiring. When I work on my art, I have a lot of feelings and emotions about every motif. I try to pull everything I have and put it into each and every piece of art that I create.


Does this inspiration come from surroundings? What initiates it?

Sometimes the inspiration can be triggered by an event. But oftentimes it’s the feelings and emotions that grow inside me, and I keep assimilating that, and at one point I realize I’m ready to transfer those feelings and emotions onto paper.


Do you ever revisit old pieces and recreate them based on new perceptions?

Yes, that happens all the time. And that is why sometimes it’s challenging to finish a piece, because while I’m working on it, I get all these new thoughts. For example, I have a series called Mermaids, which is about a human being who suddenly wakes up amidst new surroundings, and all the things she’s going through. And now that I look at that series, I think that possibly I could have stylized it differently. But that was the way I felt at the time, and that’s what the artwork reflects.


What is the main thing that changes for you and your perceptions over time?

Getting older and having new experiences definitely affects the way my art is changing. I get a lot of my inspiration from nature, so I often take different color palettes based on the seasons. I get inspired by people, events, places I visit.


"Miracle Tree"
“Miracle Tree”


Do you think people’s perceptions of your work also change over time?

I strongly believe that every human being is unique in their own way. Everybody, when it comes to art especially, has a different vision of the same piece: that is, the perception of line, shape, and the overall idea behind the artwork. A lot of times I’m asked certain questions that surprise me when others see my art. I think it’s amazing how my artwork inspired that person to think of a completely different thing.


Has traveling had an effect on your work?

That is a huge influencer. The surrounding environment, places, people, have a huge impact on the way I feel at the moment. That in its own way impacts my art.


Has your move to the US affected your work at all?

After moving to the US, I felt freedom to invest a lot more time in art. That’s when I started showing my work in galleries. This is actually new to me. It’s not something I did back in Petersburg, and I’m extremely happy and grateful about it.


Can you tell me what people can expect from your exhibition at Twenty-Two Gallery?

As far as In Tune with Time, I hope that everybody who walks in automatically feels harmony, kindness, and warm feelings. I try to put that into every piece I create. And I hope that translates for everyone who visits.


Olga’s mix media works on paper and canvas are on view until August 5 at Twenty-Two Gallery, located at 236 S. 22nd St. Philadelphia, PA 19103