Arcadia Olenska-Petryshyn's life was consumed with art which defined and nurtured her. She brought to the process of making art passion, discipline and an immense intellectual curiosity. A trained art historian, she was keenly aware of the complex cross-currents of twentieth-century art. Moreover, she was conscious of the historical moment in which she was establishing her own artistic identity. Her numerous essays on art, written over a period of 30 years, are intertwined with her production as an artist. They help define her core artistic values and set a theoretical basis of her art.
A brief consideration of the major moments in Olenska-Petryshyn's life, will put into clearer perspective the evolution of her career as a painter – the main focus of this essay. She was born on June 19, 1934 in Roznoshentsi, Ukraine. The family left Ukraine for the last time in 1944 and spent the next years in Augsburg, Germany. In 1949 they emigrated to America and settled in New York.
Olenska-Petryshyn attended Washington Irving High School and then Hunter College from which she received an MA degree in 1963. In 1956 she married Volodymyr Petryshyn, a professor of mathematics at Rutgers University. Olenska-Petryshyn was an important contributor to the cultural life of the Ukrainian community in New York. She was an active participant in the New York Group, a young generation of Ukrainian writers and artists formed in the mid-1950s. She also helped form the Association of Young Ukrainian Artists. For years she was the art editor of Suchasnist, a journal dealing with literary and cultural issues.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Olenska-Petryshyn began regular visits to Ukraine which would continue till her untimely death in 1996. These early visits coincided with momentous events in Ukrainian contemporary history as the country moved toward independence in 1991. She involved herself as she knew best - by lecturing, writing and exhibiting her work.
The core of Olenska-Petryshyn's professional and intellectual life remained in the cultural milieu of New York. This encompassed New York at large and its Ukrainian community. The artist negotiated these two worlds seamlessly and each was pivotal to her identity in different ways. Her growth as an artist was informed primarily by her experience of the New York art scene. She rarely overtly addressed Ukrainian themes in her art. In her essays, she dealt with topics that inform her art, ranging from the meaning of form to the nature of non-objectivity to the role of the viewer in art. She also wrote extensively on Ukrainian art. In these essays she addresses a broad array of issues from non-objectivity in Kasimir Malevich, an artist born in Kyiv where he received his early training, to the sculptural innovations of Alexander Archipenko, Ukraine's most prominent artist, to reviews of Ukrainian artists of the diaspora.
Olenska-Petryshyn had an active career in the larger artistic community - both in New York and other venues. She exhibited widely and her work met with critical success and entered important private and public collections.