Story via Arshia Simkin, The Underline, the Orange County Arts Commission

Anatolii Tarasiuk is a Ukrainian artist who was forced to flee Ukraine last summer as the war with Russia continued to escalate. He, his wife, and his three children now live in Hillsborough and, in a new program headed by Soteria Shepperson and Sophie Suberman, Tarasiuk is a new artist-in-residence at the Eno River Mill, a local arts hub in Hillsborough. Shepperson and Suberman are no strangers to using the arts to enrich lives: they are co-founders of Grow Your World, an organization that offers arts-based mentorship “for youth who are justice-involved, justice-impacted, or at risk of disconnection” and a tutoring program that pairs college kids with 4th grade through 12th grade students. Shepperson said, “We believe in the power of community care. We teach these kids, very, very early on, the value of believing yourself and also reaching out when you needed to be grounded and guided by someone you trust.”

Photo courtesy Soteria Shepperson & Sophie Suberman

The artistic universe in Orange County is richly interconnected: Shepperson recalled how she met Tarasuik through Becky Woodruff of the Frame & Print Shop in Chapel Hill, where Grow Your World was holding a gallery opening. “This was so important to me around the artist in residency [program] because I want Grow Your world students to have an artist that they can look up to and this was an amazing way that we could support [and] invest in people,” Shepperson said. Shepperson and Suberman emphasized the importance of fostering connections between their student participants and the greater artistic community: they are excited to collaborate with the Eno Arts Mill because it houses so many prolific local artists, now including Tarasuik.

Tarasuik’s own artistic journey began when he was 11-years-old. He started out at the Children’s Pantomime Group and became a theater actor when he was about 16-years-old; at the same time, he also dabbled in ballet. His love affair with painting began when he found a stash of unused oil paints his parents had: soon he was making nature paintings and moving toward more abstract works. Tarasuik’s artistic mediums have continued to be varied: while painting, he continued his theater work, including as a composer at the theater; he is also a singer and was a pastor at a local church for more than 20 years.

Photo courtesy Anatolii Tarasiuk

While Tarasuik’s journey to North Carolina and subsequent settling in wasn’t easy—his wife was pregnant with their third child at the time; upon arriving in the States, he was uninsured and diagnosed with cancer—he is grateful for the opportunity to live and work here. Thanks to the aid of Duke Cancer Center, Tarasuik is now cancer-free and eager to get back to his artistic work.

“My biggest inspiration is, when the final piece is ready, to see the reaction of people. It produces such happy, joy[ous] feelings,” Tarasuik. He gets great satisfaction from seeing the different interpretations that people bring to the art—even if it’s an interpretation that he didn’t consciously put into the art himself. “It’s kind of a magic,” Tarasuik said. He is excited to have a studio at the Eno Arts Mill where he can work, regardless of the temperamental North Carolina weather or without fear of splattering paint around his home, Tarasiuk confided with a smile.

“There’s always the message of hope,” Tarasuik said of his paintings. “Of encouragement. It doesn’t matter how dark…your situation [is], there is always hope of a brighter future.”

(photos via Orange County Arts Commission) has partnered with the Orange County Arts Commission to bring more arts-focused content to our readers through columns written by local people about some of the fantastic things happening in our local arts scene! Since 1985, the OCAC has worked to to promote and strengthen the artistic and cultural development of Orange County, North Carolina.