By Jeff Oliver
Brian T. Kershisnik, winner of the director’s award at the recent Springville Spring Salon, never considered being an artist in his youth.
The son of a geologist, Kershisnik spent his childhood in transit. From his birthplace in Oklahoma he moved first to West Africa then to Thailand then Texas and later to Pakistan, where he and his family were evacuated in the 1979 American hostage crisis.
After studying for a year at the University of Utah and later serving a mission to Denmark, Kershisnik came to BYU.
It was here he discovered and dedicated himself to painting – an event Kershisnik describes as fateful but not heroic.
“I never worried about the money,” Kershisnik said. “The hardest part was figuring out how to tell my dad,” he said.
After finishing school at BYU, Kershisnik began his graduate work at the University of Texas, where, he said he found direction while flying in the face of an antagonistic faculty.
He said his four graduate review sessions were painful but worthwhile – serving mainly to orient his artistic tact, even though that tact most often ran contrary to the intents of his professors.
A reputation-hungry university is not interested in the concept of painting for homes, Kershisnik said. Rather, they want artwork to put in museums, he said.
Kershisnik said he credits his graduation in the end to an unsubmissive spirit.
“I think they let me go because they knew they weren’t going to change me,” he said.
Now living and painting in Kanosh, Millard County, Kershisnik said he speaks of his art with honesty.
He said he admits to a certain amount of skill in observation and craft, but he said he attributes the accomplishment of his paintings to an element of grace beyond his control.
Kershisnik said a successful painting is an act of participation, not creation.
Concerning the conflict some artists in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints experience between religion and creativity, Kershisnik said he has never felt it.
“I would much rather suspect that it is my discipleship that is limited by the depth and honesty of my creativity,” he said.
He said he does not shy away from painting scriptural scenes, but he does so only when he feels invited.
However, there are certain scenes Kershisnik said he will never paint.
For example, although he said he has painted apostles Peter, James and John sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane, he said he feels he has no business painting Jesus Christ’s atonement.
Kershisnik said he does not agree with everyone’s choice in art.
“It must get tedious for my friends when they ask me what I think of some of the art in their homes,” Kershisnik said.
“Honestly, there is some that I can’t even look at,” he said.
He said he was referring specifically to paintings that place the audience in a position where they would have been condemned or even consumed for eavesdropping on the most pivotal events of the universe.
He said the frank illustration of such events stripped of any barriers of style or symbol was indecent.
Although he said he sees much that is good and extremely intelligent in contemporary art, Kershisnik said he doubted as to whether this age will be remembered as a golden age for art.
“The artists I admire most, obscure, famous or anonymous, have contributed to my humanity through their whimsy, their devotion, their tragedy, their bliss or their quiescence. I seek to be such an artist,” Kershisnik said.
Critics have praised Kershisnik for his “way of seeing.”
David Gagon, art writer for the Deseret News, described it as “a point of view that captures and expresses parental or filial love with pedagogical zip.”
Art Critic D.K. Row warned against underestimating Kershisnik’s simple, unexaggerated style. He said Kershisnik is a “purist-a painter’s painter – one from the old school.”
Kershisnik, who said he does not equate himself with any artistic movement or manifesto, described his motivation simply.
“I paint because I love, and because I love to paint.”