Yuriy Totskiy is an architect turned painter who has lived in Columbus for 25 years and his new exhibit, “Our Contemporaries By Eyes of Ukraine Born Artist,” is on display at Ma Boulange through mid-January.
Totskiy moved to Columbus to work for a architecture firm after getting his art training and professional degree in his native country of Ukraine. Now, almost three decades later, he is known around town as a beloved portrait artist and has painted many of Columbus’ most influential people throughout his career.
Totskiy recently corresponded with Sunday Arts reporter Carrie Beth Wallace to discuss his new exhibit, his process and why Ma Boulange is the next best place to showcase art in Columbus.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: How did you get into painting?
A: My years of experience working both in architectural design and art taught me a holistic approach to treating art in whole integrity with surrounding space — exterior and interior.
The art experience I have comes from my native Ukraine, where I received strong training in European Art Fundamentals during four years in art school.
It was followed by School of Architecture where I earned my professional degree.
Q: What brought you to Columbus?
A: I am very grateful to Ray M. Wright — the person who brought me here, and offered the job related to my background, to Hecht, Burdeshaw, Johnson, Kidd and Clark, Architects (now Hecht-Burdeshaw, Architects). There, I met wonderful people with whom I’ve stayed in touch all these years.
Q: What is the primary focus of this exhibit?
A: The title of the exhibition is “Our contemporaries by eyes of Ukraine born Artist.” Because this is a portraiture art, it was my interest to explore a big variety of ethnicities, people age, temperaments and life experiences.
Q: How did you decide on the space at Ma Boulange?
A: My colleagues have had some exhibitions in My Boulange. They have all been nicely impressed by the welcoming approach, friendliness and support of chef Bruno Rizzo, and his management and staff.
The location in the midst of the Downtown is perfect. It provides a big flow of people of different ages and backgrounds- the employees of surrounding offices and businesses, church goers, families with kids – especially on Sundays, city visitors, students, Fort Benning soldiers and their relatives. I just enjoy seeing this variety of personalities.
My Boulange deserves a good reputation, and it has its loyal customers. What else you can wish for?
People come here naturally. They enjoy great food, it puts them in a good mood and this offers a wonderful opportunity to chat with the customers. This also offers first hand opinions about my work. Importantly, many visitors know many of the people in the portraits — it makes our conversations even more interesting and warmer.
Q: Are there any reoccurring themes in your work?
A: The subjects of my work are primarily our contemporaries. Mostly residents of Columbus.
One cannot be bored exploring the human types, nature and expressions. Painting kids leaves me fascinated with their unpretentious natures, freshness, joy and openness.
Working on a mature person’s portrait you learn about their life, accomplishments and losses. At times, you feel somebody’s pain.
You have to have a respect to person on whose portrait you work — being attentive to even small details. Details speak themselves.
Q: Would you please describe your process?
A: After taking with the patron or receiving the photo where the portrait is to be placed, I create a computer-generated interior view, so the advice about the right size of the painting, and at times suggestions about the color scheme, can be given to the patron.
Even though I prefer to work from life, in certain situations I use a photographs. I like for the photograph to be preferably taken by myself if possible.
Q: How can people contact you? Where else can we find your work?
A: I do have my website. It was designed by what we remember as Basset and Becker, or Naartjie. I also have a presence in local Gallery on 10th, across the street from the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts.
Those interested in commissions can contact me by phone or email.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
A: This exhibition happened thanks to my lovely wife, Mira. We have been together for 40 years. She encouraged me to share my work with people of the city of Columbus, with whom we have shared our lives for 25 years.
I also would like to thank the artists from Columbus Artists’ Guild, the Portrait Society of Atlanta, and Ronald Bayens Art Guild in Auburn. They all share with me their professional experience, have provided invaluable advice and, if necessary, mentoring throughout the years. My biggest thanks to all of them.
What: “Our Contemporaries By Eyes Of Ukraine Born Artist”
When: Through Jan. 15
Where: Ma Boulange French Bakery and Café, 111 12th Street
Cost: Free to visit. Prices of bakery goods vary.
Call: www.yuriytotskiy.com , email@example.com or call (706) 593-2832
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