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Culture » Arts & Entertainment

Life Studies

Brian Kershisnik lets observers into his creation of surreal worlds.



Still life: The very term evokes the contradiction inherent in painting. The visual arts, more than any other, are constructed based on their relationship to life. Perhaps it’s a legacy of the representational history of painting, in the age before photography when images on canvas formed the only lasting depictions of significant people or events.


Local painter Brian Kershisnik over the last two decades has created a collection of artworks peopled with characters evoking the life of an unstated narrative'dreamlike worlds reminiscent of Marc Chagall as well as European folk art, with seemingly little drawn from the commonplace, mundane world. In so doing, he has created his own mythos as one of the region’s most visible and highly esteemed artists. A new exhibit at the University of Utah’s Museum of Fine Arts, titled Painting From Life, showcases the intermingling of the artist’s life with the subjects of his paintings.


In addition to exhibiting his works, Kershisnik will also be on site at the museum this week, painting and discussing the process of painting, to reveal another side of the artist’s life not often open to public view. Unlike painters who double as art instructors, he doesn’t view his residency as a chance to demonstrate a certain technique or give a performance. “I have no idea how it’ll turn out,” he says with a shrug. “People can ask questions, but in order to actually paint, it might have to be partly quiet.nn

He wouldn’t want to take a pedantic role anyway. “Students tend to copy their instructors,” he says. “I’m more interested in letting people find out what they want to do, what stories they have to tell.” As for nonpainters viewing, he notes that “painting is mysterious to people. A lot of it is just hard work, applying paint to see what works and what doesn’t.” It’s the serendipitous, unplanned discoveries of the brush that he values and that give his works life.


Kershisnik is no stranger to using his art to enrich the lives of others by lending his art a life beyond the purely aesthetic. For more than a decade, he has collaborated with developmentally disabled artist Joe Adams from Kanosh, Utah'where Kershisnik lives and works'to create challenging, unconventional art. Kershisnik says of Adams, “He is fascinated with drawing power crews on the lines, and what he does is a variation of what I do.nn

The works in this show were almost all taken from other collections around the state, although he has works that reside with collectors and galleries around the world. Two large paintings, however, were created especially for the capacious walls of the venue: “Woman With Infant Flying” and “Lovers Running.” Both are textbook examples of his style: subjects that feel mythic yet familiar and commonplace. As a Utah son who served an LDS mission in Denmark and grew up all around the world while his father worked for an oil company, it’s no accident his style seems to come from everywhere and nowhere.


The title of this show was taken by the museum from a 2002 book about his works. At that time, he recalls telling a viewer of his paintings, “I don’t paint from life,” in the sense of using a model. The man rejoined, “Yes, you do paint from life. Setting up a model has nothing to do with life.” Life isn’t something we set up, he has found; rather, “it’s the path we take and work through. Things that are difficult are the most rewarding.nn

“I try to approach each painting like life,” he adds, “and let things that happen play their role and not be too worried about how it turns out. I’m learning from the painting, too; if not, then it’s limited to what I know, which is very little.” He’s found that this attitude can lead to even more discoveries'and the painting takes on a life of its own.


nUtah Museum of Fine Arts
nUniversity of Utah
n410 Campus Center Drive
nThrough July 1
nArtist residency
nMay 31–June 2
n11 a.m.–3 p.m.