Brian Kershisnik: Painting from Life

Editor’s Note: Today Meridian celebrates the painting of Brian Kershisnik with this excursion into his paintings, and his wife’s revealing musings into life with an artist. A new book has just been published displaying his moving work, which we will review next week.

If you are already a Kershisnik fan you can find more information on purchasing his work or the book by clicking here. If you are unacquainted, you have something delicious ahead.

By Maurine Proctor

We first met Brian Kershisnik at the World Congress of Families in Geneva, Switzerland. His painting, Large Horse, Small Riders was the quintessential symbol of the situation facing family in the world. A large horse, carrying a small father, mother and two children, is swimming through a rising river. The painting leaves you with a haunting question. Would the family make it or would the water continue to rise and daunt their chances? Yet the horse was strong and able. It was a picture of the situation.

Large Horse, Small Riders

We sat next to him for two days. He was at a table selling his pictures; we were signing people up to receive information on family issues. He was as distinctive personally. In a sea of strangers, we found him remarkably familiar. His tenderness and gentleness struck a chord.

So do his paintings.

Kershisnik, who lives in the tiny town of Kanosh, Utah, paints images of people that capture in a metaphoric stroke the vulnerability and exhilaration of life.

Jacquelyn Mitchard wrote of him “Brian Kershisnik seems to know instinctively: all that is important in human life involves risk. On almost every canvas.there is motion; there is connection; there is risk. Sweetness and bitterness, he once told me. Awkwardness and tentative grace. A holy difficulty.

“To draw juxtapositions must be a holy difficulty. And yet any of us who live outside the cave of our own comfort experience just this every day. From the first touch of one’s lips to the lips of a squalling red infant until the moment we close our eyes in anticipation of eternal rest or external life, we walk in measured danger-and make the choice to walk boldly.

“If we are saved, Brian seems to suggest, it is by our connections with the earth, with God (for Brian is a religious man [LDS]) with those we love, with those we support.”


Here is a sampling of his work:

Dances Through Disaster

“In Dances Through Disaster, I cannot help but see my eighteen-year-old son attempting to negotiate above the depths in a craft of his own making, too small to accommodate his size even if he sat down and folded himself into a fetal shape. The painted figure tries, half-clothed, to stand, to hold himself upright. Nonetheless, he is not alone. In the background is a humble shape; a dry house. It is a reminder, to my unlearned eye at least, that parents can sometimes function as no more than a dry harbor, an outgrown place, as the poet said, where, when you have to there, they have to take you in.” Jacquelyn Mitchard

Father and Son Dancing

Father and Son Dancing was inspired by a sorrowful image, a snapshot in time that snagged Kershisnik’s imagination and drove him to paint, of a friend lifting his disabled son from the bath. “We all knew this boy’s life would not be long,” he said, “and yet, it was a dance. It was a moment of joy within that sadness.” For me, the painting that resulted was inspirational and redolent of the difficulties of touch between fathers and sons as they grow. Jacquelyn Mitchard

Lovers with Banners

Kershisnik is adept at capturing the nuances in relationships. I particularly like his metaphors for marriage.

In Lovers with Banners, two meet and kiss on a field. Their banners, different in color but flying the same direction, seem to me a symbol of their distinctive natures joined in love with same wind blowing–for this moment at least.

The Difficult Part

Kershishnik often portrays relationships as a dance. In The Difficult Part, two are in an acrobatic dance that involves not only grace, but great skill derived only from practice. The movement is both awkward and beautiful as each bends well out of shape to accommodate the other. Somehow, a successful life can absorb mistakes and ineptness, and people should not expect immediately to be good at difficult things.

Cat Gift

Kershisnik sees not only the humanity, but the humor in our foibles. Mark Magleby says , “There is something both ambitious and foolhardy in offering a wrapped gift to a cat. In Cat Gift, the giver approaches with eagerness and trepidation, leaning forward as he attempts to bridge the gap between himself and the creature, which look the other way, seemingly indifferent. We sense that this man is more likely to receive a rebuke than gratitude for his offering, but we wish him well. He is clearly a tender soul, an innocent for whom we have instant empathy.”

The new book Kershishnik, Painting from Life, is a visual delight, featuring 130 of his paintings and 28 images of the artist at work.

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