Painting From Life’ comes to life

By By Christopher Wallace

By Christopher Wallace

Distinct yet ambiguous figures inhabit the deep two-dimensionality of Utah artist Brian Kershisnik’s paintings that comprise his latest exhibition, “Painting From Life,” will debut Friday at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts.

Kershisnik’s paintings are luminous and looming, depicting through the elemental humanity of his subjects the manifold truths and limitations of the human condition.

“Bitterness, sweetness, awkwardness and grace all come through in Kershisnik’s work,” said Steve Wyatt, curator of exhibitions at UMFA. “Sometimes (the) entire range of the human experience (exists) in a single Kershisnik painting.”

The subjects of this exhibition’s paintings are mostly adult women, with men generally occupying lesser roles. Also prominent figures in the paintings are dogs and mystical, angelic beings who are generally depicted horizontally, suspended among people.

Triptychs abound in the paintings. They consist often of three women, two persons with a dog or other thought-provoking combinations.

A particularly striking aspect of the figures is the nearly ubiquitous neutrality of their expressions — blank faces, no matter the activity they are engaged in. Lovers embrace awkwardly, dancers of wild dances show no emotion.

Children are infrequent in the paintings; most of the people seem to be ageless adults, often engaged in routine actions. The people in the paintings, especially those with many figures, occupy the same space — which exists, the paintings seem to suggest, merely to provide context for the subjects who occupy it. The interaction is generally that of a silent acknowledgement of one another, with their attention mostly attuned to the same object or affixed in the same direction.

In other paintings, however, the figures seem united by a common activity or the mutuality of an emotion, though in this case their faces are looking away from the viewer or are obscured by another’s head.

Nearly half of the paintings on display at UMFA were painted specifically for the exhibition, including two large-scale paintings that stand 11-feet-high.

Kershisnik said he has come to think of his talent as a gift. However, he wonders about the nature of this gift.

“Perhaps art is a rend,” he said. “A hole, a place where a seam in the body or spirit did not quite come together and, as a result, another pure authentic reality leaks out not necessarily in intentional ways.”

Born the son of a petroleum geologist, Kershisnik grew up in Luanda, Angola; Bangkok, Thailand; Conroe, Texas and Islamabad, Pakistan.

Kershisnik earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting in 1988 from Brigham Young University and a Master of Fine Arts in printmaking in 1991 from the University of Texas at Austin.

He currently resides in Kanosh, a small town in Millard County, Utah, with his family of three children and their dog. He continues to paint prolifically.

“As I get older and more experienced,” said Kershisnik, “my sense of what to pursue or discard gets better, as does my appreciation for the sacred state of not knowing exactly what you’re doing, just knowing you should be doing it.”

“Painting From Life” will run from tomorrow until July 1 in UMFA’s Great Hall. On Feb. 24 at 2 p.m., Kershisnik will give a lecture about his art, technique and motivation and will be available to autograph copies of his book. This event will be free and open to the public.

Regular exhibits and events at UMFA, including “Painting From Life,” are free for UMFA members, U faculty and students and children under 6. Admission for adults is $5, and seniors and youth ages 6 to 18 are $3. Visit for more information.