Born to Russian parents and raised in Harlem, New York, Oleg Stavrowsky now lives in Lago Vista, Texas, near Austin. Of himself, he says, “I turned out to be a real country hick. I have no desire to live in the city any more.”
Now known as a painter of western subjects, Stavrowsky’s interest in Western art began in high school during World War II. After serving in the war, he became a technical illustrator for McDonnell Aircraft in St. Louis, Missouri. His career then expanded to fashion illustration and other types of commercial art.
Exasperated with art directors, Stavrowsky’s visit to Oklahoma City and the Cowboy Hall of Fame changed his life. Inspired by what he saw, he gave up commercial art and went to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where began to paint full time. His first year, he was in an exhibit at the Cowboy Hall of Fame. Stavrowsky is a realist painter of both the historic and contemporary American West.
Of his life and career, he says, “Most ‘artist biographies’ are pure drivel and claptrap, but I know the business demands it and for some reason clients are incurably curious about the personal lives of artists. For the life of me I don’t know why, but I know that’s the way it is. My problem is that my ‘career’ in art has been boring to someone who is looking for juicy and exciting details.
“Very few people know me personally and I have heard that I don’t really exist, that I am black (because I was born in Harlem), that I am from the ‘old country,’ (because of my name), and that I don’t speak English. Of course none of it is true. I got through two years of high school, was drafted into the Armed Forces in 1945, and got honorably discharged as a staff sergeant in 1949. I fooled around with ten thousand incidental jobs and finally when I was thirty decided I liked graphics.
“I got a pretty good job as a technical illustrator and I was really cooking. Then I got interested in fashion drawing and got into free-lance art. My only teacher was a book, but I had a sold reputation as a hot dog. I was in Oklahoma City, about ten years ago, decided to see what was in the Hall of Fame, and made up my mind I’d like to try that. I guess we all like cowboys and Indians. It was pretty good right from the start and I’ve been at it ever since.”
Eventually, Stavrowsky settled in Texas, where he still lives and paints. “One big factor in my life is jazz. When I paint, I am listening to music. Sixty-four bars of good saxophone is like four square inches of good brush licks on a canvas. Western painting is my life, my joy, my income, my everything.”