Hartland artist Olena Babak part of Saturday’s Open Studio Tours

HARTLAND — Olena Babak sometimes draws on American-born artist James Whistler for inspiration.

Whistler, who is quoted as having said: “An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision,” like Babak, worked in portraits and realism.

“To me it means you don’t just go and render art — if you do not have a thought or emotion of some sort behind it, it really becomes just a skillful rendering of an object,” she said.

Babak, 39, who came to the United States as a 20-year-old refugee from Ukraine in 1997 not speaking any English, opened her studio and home gallery on Great Moose Drive in Hartland on Saturday as part of the eighth annual Open Studio Tour of artists’ barns, lofts, studios and gardens.

Sponsored by the nonprofit Wesserunsett Arts Council, this year’s tours were billed as “a summer arts celebration.”

Visitors to Babak’s home Saturday admired the stunning portraits and colorful landscapes, numbering more than three dozen around the studio.

Rick and Lori McKinley, who live next door to Babak but had not yet seen her new renovated studio, said they have followed Babak’s art work online and now had the chance to view it in person.

“This is our first time in the studio — I like her character sketches,” Rick McKinley said. “She has this great ability to draw expressions.”

Babak said she travels a lot with her work, but has devoted her life to her art.

“I teach, but for the most part I paint — that’s all I do — full time,” she said. “I call myself a contemporary artist because I draw at the present moment from the history of art and the experiences that are happening to me in the present moment and from the other artists that create around me.”

Within that broad structure of “contemporary,” Babak said she leans toward realism in her portraits, figures and landscapes done in oil on canvas as well as with charcoal and pencil.

Her inspirations in art come from the classical works of Michaelangelo and…

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