Painter Brian Kershisnik’s studio is one of many catacomb-like spaces occupied by multiple artists in downtown Provo.
At the end of a weaving hallway, it is a tall gray room stained with the smell of paint. It would be a drab place except for the plethora of paintings on the wall whose striking colors and subjects command attention. Some have yet to be completed.
For Kershisnik, this is standard. “My hope is that you haven’t seen my best work yet. I haven’t seen my best work yet,” he said.
Kershisnik’s works include “Nativity” and “She Will Find What is Lost,” which was featured on the cover of the February 2017 LDS Ensign. He is known for painting from life. Kershisnik discovered his talent for painting in his college years. He encourages young adults to experience and appreciate art. It was the influences of others' art and thinking that helped Kershisnik create his unique style and resulted in a succesful career.
“His work is distinctive. One can pick out Brian’s work. We’re drawn to it,” said Ashlee Whitaker, curator of religious art at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art. According to Whitaker, Kershisnik uses evocative colors, lines and patterns to create insightful works worthy of introspection.
“When you look at his pieces, there’s almost this sense of this guileless, poetic sophistication,” Whitaker said.
After growing up all over the world, Kershisnik became interested in art in an architecture class during his freshman year at the University of Utah. It had never occurred to him that art was his life’s calling.
“I thought that art was done by dead people in books,” he laughed.
After serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Northern Europe, he enrolled at BYU, where he met Joe and Lee Bennion, who were also studying art. Kershisnik was interested in pottery at the time, but Lee suggested he try painting.
“Immediately there was some rapport. I thought that painting was going to be an important thing for me,” Kershisnik explained.
As Kershisnik began painting, he set goals outside of schoolwork to push himself to explore things that he wanted to explore in painting. He received his bachelor’s degree in painting from BYU in 1988 and went on to receive a master’s degree in printmaking from the University of Texas at Austin in 1991. Since then he has been inspired by studying great painters and thinkers.
“Good artwork is produced by good thinking,” he said. “I value good, smart, difficult conversation.” Such conversation with other students and mentors was key in his development at BYU.
Kershisnik feels that his college experience at BYU was intellectually rigorous and beneficial to his devotion as a Latter-day Saint.
“As my notion of the universe was changing, those changes were happening in an environment that was nourishing to faith,” he said.
While Kershisnik doesn’t feel that he paints specifically for the LDS community, he does strive to be true to his identity.
“That’s a real factor,” he said. “I allow that element to propel me into more work.”
Kershisnik believes that especially for young people, appreciating art is a valuable part of the human experience. He encourages students to prioritize the visual and performing arts.
“Go and look for the things that help you make better sense of your life,” he said.
Kershisnik’s daughter, Leah, is a freshman at the University of Utah. She described her father as being supportive in his children’s pursuits of art. She said that she and her siblings have always been welcome to work on projects at the studio.
“He’s open to any way you can appreciate art,” she said of her father. “He feels like it’s an important thing and he celebrates however you do it.”
For Leah, who wants to pursue a graduate degree in museum studies, it helps to develop some background on art to truly appreciate it.
“You can look at something and it’s beautiful. But anything extra you know just adds to that and makes it so much more wonderful,” she explained. She said her father’s art reflects conversations they have shared and things she knows about him.
Kershisnik said that one common misconception people often have is that being an artist is carefree fun.
“Being a painter doesn’t mean you have 60 hours of bliss,” he said. Much of his work is fighting against failure and self-doubt.
“I like the struggle,” he said of these challenges. “I like to start a painting long before it is clear to me what it implies and what the message is. I would rather start a painting with a hunch that there is something here that I need to learn.”
His advice to other artists is: “If you are going to make it a lifelong hobby or a lifelong profession, get really good at preserving the aspect that delights you.”
Thirty years and between 2,000 and 3,000 paintings later, Kershisnik is indeed still delighted by his work.
“The point of it for me is to keep it surprising and keep on finding things — having paintings become something that I didn’t initially think of,” he said. “That’s an experience that I’m always trying to have.”
Madalyn McRae is a BYU news media major. She lives in Provo. Contact her at [email protected].