- February 24, 2015
The saying “If you can’t do, teach” doesn’t apply to Violetta Chandler.
Chandler, a fifth-generation Russian artist who moved from Ukraine to Sarasota in 1995, grew up surrounded by art. She’d watch her father paint for hours in their home, eventually teaming up to paint murals right beside him.
“Architecture, gardens … all has its own life,” Chandler said. “That’s what attracts me. Even though a lot of the time you don’t see a person in a painting, you can feel it. It all tells a story.”
Her earliest memory of holding a paintbrush is around the age of 4, and 10 years later she was graduating from junior fine art school. At 19, she graduated with honors from Repin College of Arts in Moldova. Afterward, she attended the Ushinsky State Institute in Odessa, Ukraine, earning a master’s degree in fine art.
Shortly after moving to Sarasota 24 years ago, Chandler was introduced to the director of the now-closed Gulf Coast Museum of Art in Largo. Upon seeing her work, he asked if she would be interested in teaching an oil painting class. She thought it would be a good opportunity to be exposed to another side of the art world, so she said yes, thus beginning what has become a more than two-decade career teaching her craft.
Chandler went on to teach workshops at Art Center Sarasota, painting at Ringling College of Art and Design and impressionist oil painting at St. Petersburg Community College. Her favorite spot to teach? The botanical garden attached to the Gulf Coast Museum of Art — even when her students didn’t feel like painting outside, she’d have them begrudgingly lug their materials out for a plein-air session.
As a painter, Chandler said her style draws from 19th century Russian realism and impressionism as well as 19th century French realism and impressionism; she named Claude Monet, Camille Corot and Gustave Courbet as three of her biggest influences. She uses a modern palette of bold, eye-catching color and is at her happiest painting what she sees in front of her in nature (i.e. plein-air).
She’s quick to mention that she doesn’t paint exactly what she sees, however.
“My paintings are very different than photos,” she said. “I’m always telling my students to only use photos as a reminder; don’t copy every detail from a photo because you take the soul from the scene.”
She especially loves to paint near the ocean, which is how she got involved with the Plein Aire Cottage Artists. This group of three like-minded creatives — Chandler, Helen Tilston and Mary-Rose Holmes — started working along the water in Indian Rocks Beach nearly 19 years ago, and in the process, they became historic preservationists.
Gulf Boulevard is a 28-block stretch of land in Indian Rocks Beach home to a neighborhood of Old Florida-style cottages that the trio of painters loves to capture. Through their careful brushstrokes, the women have inspired cottage owners to push back against developers and have banded together to preserve the heritage of the area.
“Near the Don CeSar condos on Gulf Boulevard, you can’t even see Indian Rocks Beach from the road,” Chandler said while explaining the changing skyline of the area. “And we’re seeing this in Sarasota, too.”
Chandler and her fellow creative crusaders were awarded the Florida Preservation Award for Historic Preservation in May 2007 for their fight for preservation via art. The story also became the subject of 2018 documentary “Save Our Cottages: Artists with a Cause,” produced by Emmy Award winners Lynn Marvin Dingfelder and Larry Wiezycki.
None of this would have been possible if it weren’t for Chandler because it was one of her painting classes at the Gulf Coast Museum of Art where the three founding Plein Aire Cottage Artists met.
“It makes me feel really good,” she said. “[The group] put a spotlight on the problem of development in Florida. … I’m proud of this and to be teaching people to pay attention to what’s right in front of them.”
Although she loves painting in Indian Rocks Beach, Chandler is happy to call Sarasota her home and the location of her main studio. She finds inspiration working in Mable Ringling’s rose garden on the grounds of The Ringling and all throughout Burns Court, as well as looking at constantly evolving areas.
“I’ve painted St. Armands for 24 years and never get tired of it,” Chandler said. “The ambiance of Sarasota has a European feel to it — and I love the movement of St. Armands. It’s always changing.”
She knows she’s not the only Sarasota resident who feels this way because her works depicting local scenes are always popular, particularly with customers who want to bring a piece of Sarasota back north with them to adorn their summer home.
The city’s European feel makes her feel more at home here, but her native continent still calls her back once a year. Last year she returned to Ukraine for the first time in 23 years.
This year, Chandler is traveling to France to teach a fall French Riviera Plein Aire workshop. This small group class with opportunities for private tutoring will give students the chance to take in the French landscape and learn the techniques necessary to successfully capture the breathtaking turquoise seascapes and pastel building-dotted skylines.
Chandler got her start painting murals with her father. Now she’s come full-circle and employs the help of her daughter, Olya Chulovskyy, to create detailed murals.
“My father is a natural optimist,” Chandler once said in a press release. “He lives nearby and gives us 100 more ideas to incorporate. … He has old-school detail and professional precision.”
It’s his patience and attention to detail that were perhaps the key artistic traits Chandler inherited from him, particularly helpful in the hundreds of hours it takes to create the floor-to-ceiling indoor/outdoor murals she’s worked on throughout Sarasota and Manatee counties.
“Never get comfortable, my father taught me,” Chandler said. “Never be satisfied. Be frustrated because ‘Comfort makes you lazy,’ he would say. Now I teach my students the same principles.”
A quick look at Facebook hints that the family tradition is continuing. A photo of Chulovskyy’s daughter, Lizonka, shows the first grader proudly posing next to her work at the school art show.