Spokane artist Lesa Delisi has found renewed success with her paintings of animals and wildlife. But Delisi, 58, isn’t alone in her art-rich family. Two sisters and two brothers are artists, joining their father Oleg Stavrowsky, 92, who still paints and is famous among collectors of his Western art.
Those two sisters – Mary Luttrell and Rachel Hurst – only began painting about a year ago with the urging of Delisi, and they’re both selling artwork, too. On Oct. 12, they joined Delisi with pieces entered in Spokane Valley Arts Council’s Art Showcase auction.
“There is something about the genetics going on but also with the atmosphere of art all around us growing up,” said Luttrell, 57, who lives in Albuquerque. During the recent weekend in Spokane, she talked, along with Hurst and Delisi, about their lives immersed in art.
Hurst, 50, has a home near their father’s residence in a suburb of Austin, Texas. They’re among eight children – four girls and four boys – born to Carol and Oleg. Their mom died about four years ago.
Growing up, the family often talked about what makes great art. However, their father didn’t instruct any of his children in how to paint, they said. Instead, he’d give them some simple, direct critiques.
“To me, the way he taught us was the best way to teach people because it allowed us to develop our own styles,” Delisi said.
“When I was 14, I said, ‘Dad I want to paint.’ He said, ‘OK, when you learn how to draw first, I’ll buy you paints, but until you learn how to draw, I’m not wasting my money.’ ”
Delisi took him drawing after drawing. He’d tell her to do it over, perhaps with a suggestion to look at the nose or spaces between objects.
“He’d give you a few tips,” she added. “It was never paint it this way except our whole family would frequently look at art together and talked about art in general, about this is good and why, or this is hard to do and why.”
“When it came to our own art, he’d usually say it’s good or bad, and things like the composition isn’t good or the color looks like you’ve overpainted it. It’s muddy. He wouldn’t give us instruction. He’d just give us a critique. It was up to us to figure it out it.”
Delisi did figure it out and sold her first painting of a deer for $20 at age 16 to a friend of her father’s. By young adulthood, she had steady income with her oil paintings, but then she had to set it aside.
“I painted from the time I was 14, and I stopped painting about age 32,” she said. “That was my career, and I raised my children that way. I think I was pretty successful at the time, but I had trouble with heavy metals and the solvents in oil paints.”
A ventilation system in her studio didn’t help. “I just decided, OK, I needed to do something else. I had gotten divorced and needed to provide for my kids, and I couldn’t do it without being able to paint. I eventually went back to school to become a speech-language pathologist.”
Delisi still works part time in that profession for Spokane Public Schools. With her parents’ urging, she eventually returned to painting around 2015 using a different medium.
“Twenty years after quitting painting, my parents kept saying. ‘Lesa, you know you’re an artist. When are you going to paint again? Why don’t you try acrylics?’ I had tried them when I was younger, and I hated them.”
But not painting was “driving me crazy,” she said. “I tried acrylics again and turned out to like them.”
Around then, Delisi was in four auto accidents. “There were concussions and all kinds of problems, so the painting slowed down. Then I started painting again about a year ago. When I did, I got these two to start painting, too.”
Delisi’s Spokane home is filled with art, some by family, including a large painting of her father’s. “Yeah, it’s stunning – he can paint a bit,” joked Hurst, who previously owned a decorative painting business. She created plaster work, faux finishes and large ceiling murals in the Italian fresco style.
“I’d never painted figures, but they were really decorative murals,” she said. “I did that for a lot of years.”
About seven years ago, Hurst ended her business because of strains on her body to climb on scaffolding. She thought she was burned out on art until summer 2018.
“Lesa came down to Texas, and she was there almost three months because dad was in and out of the hospital,” Hurst said.
“She kept bugging me to paint with her. I have a workshop, which has all my tools, and she’d go out there. I said, ‘I don’t want to paint, stop bugging me,’ but she was very persistent, so I went out there one day.”
Hurst described that moment with a deep inhale. “Huh, art again,” she said. “Ever since, I’ve been going full bore. I paint full time, and I’ve had a lot of success with it.”
She also paints animals, adding decorative patterns to backgrounds. Delisi bought Hurst’s first painting of a penguin. The sisters turned to encouraging Luttrell, who started to paint around the same time. Her siblings tease that Luttrell might outpace them.
“Mary has always been insanely creative,” Hurst said. “She used to sculpt. She’s a writer and worked as a graphic designer, so it was only a matter of time.”
“You can tell who the lifelong painter is versus the two of us, but we’re both learning and having a great time.”
Luttrell’s son wanted an octopus in her first painting. She agreed only if it had a mermaid, and she made another decision setting up future artwork – to paint in dramatic black and white.
She’s since painted images of horses and other Western-flair subjects in that style. “I’d never would have done it without my sisters,” Luttrell said.
“The good thing about it is having grown up in the same family around the same art, we speak the same language about art. Also, to have that encouragement is priceless. You don’t always get that from other artists, but, when they’re your sisters, they pretty much have to.”
Delisi lived in 32 places by age 18, as their family moved around Stavrowsky’s interests in art, she said. The sisters credit their mom for supporting him and equally loving art. Stavrowsky varied his work, including abstracts, but most are Western genre paintings.
“He’s done everything from airplanes to antique automobiles,” Delisi said. “Right now, he’s doing some things that have to do with antique oil-drilling machinery methods. It’s just what’s gotten his interest, and that’s what he’s always done, which has made our lives fascinating.”
Although their dad might sound at times critical about a piece of art, Luttrell said he’s equally discerning of his own paintings.
“He will say about his own artwork that ‘I maybe have done five good paintings in my entire life. Every once in a while, you’ll accidentally do something good, and every rare once in a while, you’ll do something great.’ ”
“Art, of course, is so subjective. Many people would say he’s done hundreds of really brilliant paintings.”
Delisi agreed, adding that it’s really the artist’s perspective that counts. “You’ll do a handful of great paintings in your life,” she said.
“We (sisters) talk a lot about that, how art is really for the artist, and then the people who appreciate art are getting the bouquet of that joy.”
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