When 47-year-old painter Brian Kershisnik retreats to his Kanosh studio in an old, sandstone dance hall, he doesn't invite models along. He paints with oil, and from his imagination alone.
Never mind labels of "style." The Provo artist's work is about maintaining a consistent method that produces consistent results. That means producing a large rotation of works, many of which remain unfinished for months, before he discovers the emotional center necessary for each one to be declared finished.
All he really knows for certain is that each work is a narrative. "But I don't always know myself what that narrative is," the painter said. "You work toward that moment when a painting starts to breathe. I feel like a participant, but the subjects in the painting have a say as well. I don't always win."
But over years of refining his craft, and after earning a BFA in painting at Brigham Young University and an MFA in print-making from the University of Texas at Austin, Kershisnik's work has won many hearts. His solo exhibitions have been regular draws at galleries in Utah, the Pacific Northwest and New York City's Coda Gallery. His unique, almost ethereal style of figure painting warranted a 2002 book, Kershisnik: Painting from Life , written in part by the late Welsh poet Leslie Norris, also poet-in-residence at BYU.
Twenty recent paintings, titled "Concordia," will be on exhibition Feb. 5-16 at Park City's Meyer Gallery.
"[His work] speaks to many, many people," said gallery owner Susan Meyer, praising the universal quality of Kershisnik's paintings. "It takes you by surprise because most people have not seen anything like it before. When they're around it even for a little while, they tend to fall in love with it. He's a home-grown Utah artist, but we've sent his work all around the world."
His fans are devoted, Meyer added. In most of his shows, according to longtime friend and agent David Ericson, his paintings sell out. "There's always several levels of meaning going on his painting," Ericson said. "You cannot buy one painting representing everything he does."
The son of a traveling petroleum geologist, Kershisnik has lived in Angola, Thailand and Pakistan. After a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Denmark, he lived in London for six months, studying under a grant while at BYU.
Even with all that globe-trotting, the majority of his work eschews the epic to focus on scenes of domestic intimacy between family and community, or what Kershisnik calls a "mythological autobiography." People tell the painter his family scenes remind them of a deceased loved one. "The particular is the gateway to the universal," he said.
Religious themes dominate some of his most recent works, titled "Descent from the Cross," a 17-foot-long Nativity and "Massacre of the Innocents," which depicts Herod's execution order on the children of Bethlehem. Though already sold, the latter will be on display in the Meyer Gallery exhibition.
A self-described "religious man," Kershisnik said he approaches spiritual images in painting only when his conscience feels right. Such projects are exhausting, laying him emotionally bare, he said. While painting "Descent from the Cross," he wept.
"I like these to be the exception," he said. "I also laugh a lot while painting, and even sing to my paintings. It's probably good that I work out here all alone."