Brian Kershisnik's exhibit of paintings and drawings, "Painting From Life," is a revelatory experience.
To see his work on display at the Utah Museum of Fine Art through July 1 is to be, what I call "Kershisniked": It draws you up and in, stimulates your sight and mind, then sets you down comfortably, often with a chuckle or satisfied grin.
His talent and success have been the topic of myriad magazine and newspaper articles, and if you Google "Kershisnik," be prepared to spend several hours looking at a prodigious portfolio of images with the word "SOLD" nearby.
BK: I feel that I do. Take for example the "Rescue," the painting of the man being attacked by a lion, and the boy fighting him off with a shovel. However, even in a painting like that, where I feel like I'm dealing with kind of a dark subject, it's amazing to me how some kind of light always breaks through into it.
A Mogul miniature of a lion attack inspired that particular painting. In my version, when I drew the lion and man on the canvas, they were so large there wasn't any more room for another adult to help fight off the lion. In the initial drawing the guy fighting the lion was bent over so he would fit on the canvas. Well, that looked kind of silly so I just made him into a boy.
Then the narrative of the painting just sort of shifted into a painting of my father's lung cancer, and me being brave and attacking it but with completely the wrong tools. And here's where the light breaks through: In the experience with my father's death from lung cancer, I couldn't make the lion bad. I mean the lion is powerful and the lion is terrible, but symbolically the lion is not the enemy. Aside from my intentions, the painting became more about "who is actually doing the rescuing?"
Anyway, that's an example of a painting where I feel like I've walked into some territory that is frightening and dark for me.
There's a lot about life that is horribly dark and there are certainly painters that try to paint unmitigated darkness, but I don't think it's a good idea; I don't think it's useful; I don't think it helps. I think that there are some things that maybe we refuse to acknowledge or allow into ourselves but I actually think that an artist who's going to rub your nose into some horror, whether you want to or not, is wrong.
There are artists who have handled dark subjects beautifully and reverently. Any subject has to be approached with a degree of reverence, and maybe particularly the dark ones. But the notion of darkness without God is foreign to my worldview. Even though I experience tragedy and pain and sorrow, I cannot look at those emotions and issues without thinking there's hope in spite of it.
BK: The kind of political statements I have and do make in my art are about the politics of being human. If they're current, they are the kinds of things that would have also been current 300 years ago. I'm not a journalist. I feel like great stories are still important in a 100, 200, or 300 years. I don't want my work to be so fixed in time that it is not useful tomorrow.
You know, we're not all called to go and stop wars in other nations. Some are, but there's also a great deal of work to be done in mercy and forgiveness in our own apartment. (Laughter.) If those attributes are neglected, the conflict will continue. Virtue cannot be neglected "little" virtue. I think it's in this area where my metaphors emerge.
BK: I'm pretty solitary. I teach (an LDS Church) Primary class, the 8-year-olds. I'm a nice chap; I think people like me well enough. It seems a little strange what I do, but I have pictures that show up in the Ensign (magazine) from time to time, which helps people feel that I'm not too strange. It's sort of validating for them. The town itself gives me a lot of elbow room. It gives me space.
Access to Kanosh is limited. It's 150 miles from Salt Lake, so just the number of people that can visit is reduced by that distance. The downside is, I spend a lot of time driving.
What: "Painting From Life," Brian Kershisnik
Where: Utah Museum of Fine Arts, University of Utah, 410 Campus Center Drive
When: Through July 1
Gallery hours: Tuesday-Friday,
10 a.m.-5 p.m.;
Wednesday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.;
Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.;
closed Mondays and holidays
How much: free (with museum admission)
E-mail: [email protected]