Self-taught Russian artist adds some soul to Wolf Jam

By on March 15, 2017

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Artist Vitaly Borisenko has never met a wolf, but his striking portrait of a white wolf looks into the soul of the creature.

“When I do an animal portrait, I try to capture the sparkle in their eyes,” says the Akron-area artist, who is a member of the Lititz Art Association.

The portrait will be featured at the Wolf Jam fundraiser at Tellus360 in Lancaster on March 19. There will be music, Stoll & Wolfe whiskey tastings, and an art auction to raise money to support the PA Wolf Sanctuary at Speedwell Forge, north of Lititz.

For the Russian-born artist, painting is a new endeavor, but you would never know it to see his work. He is entirely self-taught. In Russia, he explains, very few people can afford to follow careers as artists.

The 28-year-old only started painting three years ago. He is an avid student, though, and once he decided to take up oil painting, he did it with a passion. He read every art history book he could find at the library, researching the work of the great masters like DaVinci and Vermeer. He went to art shows and museums, studying the work of modern artists he admires, like Jacob Collins and Sarah Lamb.

He was finally able to afford a good quality set of oil paints, and as soon as he did he experimented and practiced for hours. He joined the Lititz Art Association and exhibited his work at the Lancaster County Art Association to get inspiration from other local artists. He unlocked a hidden talent that no one, including Borisenko, thought existed.

“I once had a teacher at university tell me I might have talent,” says Borisenko. “I never thought about becoming an artist back then.”

Borisenko was born in the former U.S.S.R., in what is now Kazakhstan. His family moved to Russia when he was a toddler, then to Belarus a few years later. After high school, he went to Vitebsk State University, where his studied German and English.

It turned out that Borisenko had a gift for languages. He speaks Russian, Belarusian, German, English and Polish, and is studying French. His fluent English has just a trace of an accent. That gift allowed him to work as a school teacher in English and German, and as an interpreter and translator.

When he had the opportunity to visit a friend in Lancaster County, he eagerly took it. He liked the area so much, he decided to stay and was married in 2014. He still can’t believe that the Amish travel by horse and buggy.

It was only when he got to Lancaster that he could indulge his talent as an artist. He approaches his painting like a scientist or engineer, exploring the effects of each brush stroke. He has been able to nearly perfectly copy the work of the masters. His goal is to develop his own unique style. At his very first art show ever, he impressed art-lovers who visited his stand at the Lititz Outdoor Art Show last July.

“I love the luminosity of oils, the way the colors are layered,” says Borisenko, adding that his uses the finest materials, like Belgian linen. “That’s what the best oil painters use. It makes a big difference.”

He finds great appeal in the pure simplicity of still lifes. A pomegranate with seeds spilling out. A stoneware jug with onions scattered around it. A bottle of raspberry wine with a pewter wine glass. He lives close to a local farm market, which gives him a fresh supply of still life subject matter.

One of his most recent paintings is called “Thom’s Breads,” and it is a celebration of, yes, bread. He used three loaves of delicious breads from Thom’s Breads of Lancaster, including a seeded bagel, a chocolate boule and a hearty loaf of Italian. After he was done, he ate them.

As an artist, his bread-and-butter is doing pet portrait commissions, working from photographs. His first commission was of a sweet Dachshund who had passed away. Frankie’s owners were touched by the memory of their beloved pet. Since then, Borisenko has painted pups that include German Shepherd Sampson, three friendly labs, and big and little dogs Brody and Peetie.

“I am an animal lover, so I enjoy painting people’s pets. I try to bring out their personalities,” says the artist, who usually paints with his orange striped cat Tiger silently observing him and occasionally dipping an approving paw into his paints.

Borisenko’s pet portraits have been used to raise funds for the Pet Pantry of Lancaster animal rescue group. Now his portrait of a dark-eyed white wolf will help to provide sanctuary to endangered wolves.

Wolf Jam takes place Sunday night, March 19, at Tellus360, 24 E. King St. in Lancaster. Concert starts at 6 p.m. There is no cover charge. Donations can be made via the sanctuary’s website,, or at the show.

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the Record Express. She can be reached at

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