Painting like the old masters

by Roger Walk

Seeing any of Ilona Shuvalova’s oil paintings puts you into the position of an art lover visiting a museum gallery or residence where great art is valued and appreciated.

The local artist’s skillful brush creates natural and pleasing portraits, landscapes, and still life like those of the Flemish, German, Italian, or English masters of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Although the people depicted in finest detail and with stunningly lit faces and shapes are people of our age and time, they are dressed and placed in environments of past centuries. The composition of her paintings is calm, the colors warm and lush, and the light is used elegantly to tell the story of the painting. Seeing her outstanding work makes you wish your own portrait would be presented in one of her paintings.

The Ukraine born Ms. Shuvalova has reached her masterly skills of painting within an incredibly short period of only three years. Originally planning to graduate as a fashion designer from John Tyler Community College, her teachers there immediately picked up on her outstanding drawing talent and encouraged her to attend studio classes in drawing, watercolor, pastels, and finally oil.

Mixing oil paints to the most nuanced colors to be brushed delicately on a canvas, she found her style. With her sophisticated oil painting technique, Shuvalova recreates the beauty she sees in people’s faces, in daily-life scenes of work and pleasure as the old splendid masters did. Shuvalova finds her subjects, objects, and motives locally in the world of colonial houses and gardens.

The young lady depicted in one of her most recent masterpieces is a volunteer at the Henricus Historical Park. Like with other projects, Shuvalova took a photograph of the model pleasantly lit by natural sunlight in front of one of the historical buildings of the park and then transferred the image on canvas for the final masterpiece. In her portraits the artist tries to capture faces in romantic moments, with dynamic but pleasant expressions that do not look posed.

The artist’s realistic style like artistic photography tries to represent reality in the most detailed and esthetic way, but the process of brushing oil paints on a canvas adds a “touchable” element of interpretation and emphasis as well as certain three-dimensionality to the image that differentiates it from the photograph – as does the time to finish a masterpiece.

The quality and artistic impact of Shuvalova’s realistic oil paintings have impressed those few who had an opportunity to see her work. “Many people who value art and paintings have complimented me on my work that is rather unique in today’s art market.” she says after having presented several of pastel and oil paintings at a recent exhibition at Richmond’s ArtWorks and on December 14 to the patrons of the Henricus Historical Park Holiday Reception.  Shuvalova plans to create more portraits and landscapes that connect the rich history and beauty of Virginia with our lives today. Hopefully more of her work will become visible and known to those who value the skills she uses to bring personal and local art into our homes and hearts.

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