If You Cut Your Own Hair to Make Paintbrushes, Nothing will Get in Your Way

Olga Dorenko can control her brush, but she can’t control her urge to paint.
Portrait by Karin Strickland

Olga Dorenko was born in Uzbekistan. “My father was in the military, so we moved around a lot, from one end of the country to the other,” she says. Her artistic impulses — and her will — became evident early on. Around age five, she decided she had to have paintbrushes. “When you want something, you find a way of getting it. So I cut my own hair and tied it to sticks I found on the ground.”

Later, while she was living with her family in Sakhalin, a Siberian island in the Sea of Okhotsk north of Japan, Dorenko’s paintings were shown on a popular children’s TV program in Moscow. “I got mail from all over,” she remembers.

Quiet Morning

Her path was set. Following high school, a quite independent Dorenko announced to her parents that she was going to go to art school, selecting Krivoy Rog Art Institute, where she studied a variety of styles and techniques.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Dorenko — by then 33 — left her homeland with her son and came to the United States, settling first in Winston-Salem and later Asheville. Possessing very little English when she first arrived, she made a living cleaning houses and painting murals. “I had two business cards,” she says. “One for the cleaning and one for the murals.” 

Over the years, her artistic style has evolved into a look widely known for color, motion, and emotion. Her stylized landscapes are ablaze with vibrant hues; many capture the swaying of branches and swirling of leaves and clouds lifting over the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

Some of her art reflects her lifelong love of Japanese ink paintings, as well as the work of Ivan Shishkin and Eyvind Earle — but it is, in the final analysis, distinctly Dorenko’s. The longer you do it, she explains, “the more you find your own style.”

LEFT: Four Seasons; TOP RIGHT: Relaxing Walk; BOTTOM RIGHT: October Tango

Most of her canvases are oils, but she also enjoys experimenting with gouache, pen and ink, and on occasion plays with salt on watercolors and uses tea for various ecru tones. Her subject matter changes, too; she mentions wanting to introduce figures into her work.

“I can’t go without painting,” she says simply. “I can’t control it. I see things everywhere.” She once found a way to turn running water drops into a painting, after being inspired by them in the shower. 

The day before she talked to Asheville Made, a yellow jacket stung her finger. “It really hurt,” she says, showing her swollen hand. “But when I started painting, the hurt went away.”

Olga Dorenko, Warehouse Studios (170 Lyman St. Suite 5, in Asheville’s River Arts District). Her work is also downtown at Woolworth Walk (25 Haywood St., woolworthwalk.com) and at Mountain Nest Gallery (133 Cherry St., Black Mountain, mtnnest.com). The artist will host a wine reception at Warehouse Studios 5-8pm on Friday, Nov. 9, ahead of the River Arts District Studio Stroll happening November 10 and 11 (10am-5pm). For more information, see olgadorenko.com.

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