art Audrey ushenko

Painting in Public: Audrey Ushenko's Thompson Center Piece

Thursday, October 23, 2014 Cora

Imagine hurrying to your midday meeting in the Thompson Center. You start across the atrium with several things on your mind. The crowd parts and there’s a canvas the size of a sofa. In front of the canvas is a small woman with red hair painting the scene. She has a little crowd behind her. You continue on, but the juxtaposition of creativity amidst the hard geometric lines of the building makes you think. The artist is Audrey Ushenko. She paints large scale canvases in public to soak up the energy of the space and be inspired. After three years, Ushenko has finished her piece of the Thompson Center.

Ushenko has done several large scale public painting projects. It started twenty years ago when Audrey was intrigued by the idea we are a web of people. We are all connected, dead or alive. At an exhibit in Boston, she saw works of the Old Kingdom of Egypt. The individual portraits dealt with finding the significance of life. Looking at the pictures and the onlookers admiring them, she felt we were still in the same ship. Ushenko enjoys being in the flow of life, seeing the different people coexisting in the same space and all stories they bring.
“Creating in public makes more sense than creating in isolation,” says Ushenko. “People who collect art don’t have much to do with the pieces.” People overall are very respectful and positive. Where she creates people have a reason to be there. They’re working, they’re going somewhere. She's not particularly interested in people's response to her work, but enjoys the comments and encourages people to ask questions. "There's a whole universe behind one pair of eyes," she says. She also does a lot of work behind closed doors. For her current piece she spent two months’ worth of planning ahead of time. The work needed to be far enough along before she set up in public.
Ushenko's work is flush with people, capturing the community that makes the place what it is. The subjects volunteer as they're either part of the commission or part of her audience. If they’re from the audience, she’ll ask if she can sketch them. Look closely at the Thompson Center composition and you'll see a cop with his drug dog. The dog, Max, had terminal cancer. "As many terminally ill people, Max didn’t want to be off the job," Audrey explained. "So Brian would bring him by. Soon people would recognize them, 'Oh that’s Max.'" She feels she a storyteller and feels best when telling a story, working with people to help them with the ideas they want to communicate. As she says, art is a form of communication. Ushenko’s Thompson Center piece debuts November 3rd and will be up for the week. For more information visit her site at

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