Danilo fled his home and went to Romania with his mother and sister to get away from the fighting near their home and its nuclear power plant. They had to leave their father behind. They are now trying to get to friends in the Czech Republic. Portrait by Rich Wilkie. | Credit: Courtesy

Last year, animator-turned-portrait-artist Rich Wilkie made it his mission to paint 100 portraits of Ukrainian refugees. Now, he’s finally reached his goal and all 100 of his paintings will be on display to the public as a fundraiser, titled Eyes of War — Eyes of Hope, at the Community Arts Workshop (CAW) from August 15-18, with a reception on the final day from 4-8 p.m.

“I focus on expressing emotions and movement in a still image. I painted like this for about a year when Russia invaded Ukraine and images of terrified refugees flooded the media,” Wilkie said. “These children had so much pathos in their faces, I had to paint them.”

For Wilkie, having the proceeds of his art go toward helping Ukrainian refugees felt right, but organizing it was another hurdle.

Zlata, age 10, fled Ukraine through bombed out towns with her mother and brother. Her father and uncles stayed back to fight for Ukraine. The Russians have been dropping bombs hidden in toys, making her home town unsafe for children to play. Portrait by Rich Wilkie. | Credit: Courtesy

“Helping the Ukrainian refugees seemed like the right thing to do,” he said. “I can sit in my studio all day painting — it comes easy for me. Getting out and asking people for money, donations, help, is a challenge. A fundraiser is not in my comfort zone, so it is forcing me to stretch.”

Paintings by San Juan Bautista–based artist Alex Gorelik and sculptures by Santa Barbara–based ceramic artist Burt Horowitz will also be on display. All profits from the sale of the three artists’ work will be donated to local nonprofits, including World Dance for Humanity, Direct Relief, Voice of the Children, Ukrainian Women of Santa Barbara, and First Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church of Santa Barbara.

At the CAW reception, live Ukrainian music and dance performances will help honor the persistent spirit of Ukraine, which Wilkie highlights in his work.

“Children are very resilient. They see other children; they start to play and laugh. They return to life,” Wilkie said. “I referred to these children as the ‘Eyes of Hope.’ They are the hope for Ukraine’s future.” —Hannah Weaver

More information about the event and ways to support Wilkie’s work can be found on his website, richwilkie.com. To visit the exhibit, see sbcaw.org.

Antonia Marksevka from Ternopil, fled the war with her mother. She presents an Easter egg in the national colors of Ukraine during Easter preparations held for Ukrainian refugee children at the Slawia cultural center on April 12, 2022 in Halle, Germany. Portrait by Rich Wilkie. | Credit: Courtesy


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