Sunday, March 26, 2023

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Iowa Artist

Olesya Maupin


Artist Olesya Maupin is well known for her beautiful paintings in her hometown of Almaty, Kazakhstan, which borders Russia. As she invites me into her basement studio in Ankeny, she explains how her artwork began appearing in public buildings. 

As a 5-year old girl, she and her mom were sitting on a bus, and she drew a picture with her fingers on the frozen window. A woman told her mom that Olesya had talent.

“ ‘She draws very good pictures,’ ” recalls Maupin.

Her mom purchased art supplies, and Maupin attended art school and obtained a master’s degree in teaching fine art. She was a professor of art for the University of Almaty.  

Her art career catapulted when her sister, who was an art dealer, was in charge of obtaining art for public ministry buildings in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.

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She sold her original art and painted reproductions, which appear all over Kazakhstan’s Parliament, Senate and Minister of Justice public buildings. She became well known for her versatility and teaching, as she paints oil, watercolor and acrylic.

Her artwork, considered valuable, was used frequently as payment for services. When she required an exit visa, the process was difficult and costly; officials were known for extortion. She began bartering her paintings as payment.

“We got first-class service after they accepted my paintings,” she said.

Another time, Maupin’s mother was in a hospital in Almaty. She gave one of the doctors a painting for her mother’s two-week hospitalization.

“I bartered with my paintings. Paintings are like a bank account,” she explained.

Olesya moved to the United States after meeting her future husband, Alan, online 10 years ago. As she settled into her Ankeny studio, she immediately connected with a community of Russians in Iowa. 

Although having experienced fame as an artist in Kazakhstan, she had to start over in the U.S. She’s displayed her art at the Ankeny Art Center. She teaches art for public and private students and classes. Her clientele list has grown to include Russians and Ukrainians living in the area, along with Americans eager to commission her work.

Her detailed work is stunning and uses many modern techniques. She’s experimented with drip paintings, similar to Jackson Pollock.

“I used a ketchup bottle to drip the paint,” she said.

She feels the population in larger American cities are more interested in original artwork.

“In the Midwest, people don’t spend as much for art. They go to TJ Maxx to get art. In my country, more people like art and understand how important it is to have original art.”

Teaching artists is her strongest asset, she said.

“I try to simply explain. Teaching — I have a gift.”

As she paints daily, she juggles time with her art and caring for her son, who has a mild form of autism.

“What I do makes me very happy. It’s like therapy. I don’t question life when I do art. My art makes me happy.”

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