Genuine innocence in art - distributed gratis to children - has been sought by modern artists for decades. This quest, however, has resulted in ineffectual mimicry at best, for it is next to impossible to recapture such innocence once one grows up. This is why the collaborative artwork of Brian Kershisnik and Joseph Adams is so compelling.
Adams has Down syndrome. With Kershisnik's light-handed guidance, he draws images (what Kershisnik refers to as the "bones") of a world unencumbered by adult vision, incorporating that peculiar and passionate blend of tragedy and glee known only to children. Twenty-five of these drawings, refined by Kershisnik's masterful color glazing techniques, are now on display in "Brian & Joe: New Work," at the Art Access Gallery through July 24.The two have been working together in Kershisnik's studio in Kanosh for nearly four years. They begin each piece by Adams drawing on an acrylic gessoed rag paper with an oil stick or on the back of inked Mylar that produces a transfer drawing. After the drawing - the "bones" - has dried, Kershisnik then paints it with oils. The first exhibition of their work was in 1996, also at Art Access.
Kershisnik, an accomplished artist in his own right, sells well both in and out of Utah. Currently his work is on display at the Salt Lake Art Center in the Utah Arts Council's "View of 9." He has a confidence concerning his own work that allows him to freely submit to the childlike imagery that flows from Adams. "I collaborate with Joe because there are paintings that I cannot make alone, that we can make together," writes Kershisnik in the exhibit's gallery notes. "We both very much enjoy it - not only the process but the end product, as well. Joe's interest in various subject matter changes from time to time, but he always depicts things that are currently important to him."
"For the last year or so," Kershisnik writes, "Joe has made many drawings of angels, usually with a car. This is likely a result of his favorite television show, `Touched by an Angel.' In most cases, he carefully studies a wallet photo of the stars of that show. There is no automobile in the photo, but often there is one in Joe's drawings. What he does see in the photo is wonderfully translated, by drawing, into what he feels about the people and the stories they've told."
Often people will either praise or question Kershisnik's motive in working with Adams, but Kershisnik is adamant that Adams brings his share of creativity to every piece. "Joe is a loved and loving, productive man," writes Kershisnik. "His disability, though it represents a significant challenge to his family, by no means makes him poor or unfortunate. In our collaboration, his childish vision has been the source of many wonderful works of art that have excelled many `normal' artists in their directness, honesty and profundity. Our working together is plainly providential, and I would be a great fool to neglect it. The only compliment that I can accept is that in this one instance, I have not been a great fool. God willing, Joe and I will continue working together for a great many years."
The combination of Adam's guileless point of view and Kershisnik's technical prowess makes for an primeval exhibit. It is unavoidable to compare the two artists' work to Paul Klee, but this should be considered a high compliment. Every piece entices, taking viewers down visual paths long ignored but not forgotten. Such works as "Freeway to Scipio," "Piggys," "Angel Car" and "Brigham Young and the Moon in Phases" will delight all.
In the end, it is obvious that Kershisnik and Adams is a collaboration that is defined by talent and friendship.
(To see more of Kershisnik's work, contact Dolores Chase Fine Art, 260 S. 200 West, Salt Lake City, 328-2787).
"Brian & Joe: New Work," at the Art Access Gallery (339 W. Pierpont Ave., 328-0703) features the collaborative paintings of Brian Kershisnik and Joseph Adams. The exhibit runs through July 24.
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