Now that I finally have a moment to sit down and write that one story I’ve been intending to post since last summer, my notes are in a notebook in a storage unit in Orem and I am hiding my cough from the heat with a box of Kleenex and some rooibos tea in an apartment in urban Taiwan. But it’s worth relaying the story nonetheless, so you’ll have to just trust me on the specifics.
Last summer I was very posh and attended frequent lectures at The Bridge Academy in Provo. If you’re not wealthy enough to take classes at the Bridge, I at least recommend attending their guest speaker and workshop events. It’s honestly kind of the best thing Mormon art has going for it.
Christopher Young was fantastic, James Christensen was inspiring, Walter Rane was lecturing the weekend I was leaving the country (fie!), but my favorite moment so far was getting to attend a presentation by Brian Kershisnik. And the moment I had been waiting for came at the end when he opened it up for questions and answers.
See, I’ve had this connection with Brian Kershisnik’s paintings for years. There’s something about his world inhabited by industrious, angelic Mormon women that just fascinates me. It connects to this Mormon quality that I saw in families in the ward I grew up in in Colorado, but has been harder and harder to find in recent years. I know a lot of Mormons, a lot of faithful people, but there is a certain quality in Mormon women that seems harder and harder to come by. I don’t know what exactly the quality is, but it’s shared by Mormon women who grow their own zucchini and/or wear their hair in one really long braid and/or dress their children in holiday-themed fabric from the discount rack at JoAnn’s and/or have those needlepoint covers for Kleenex boxes in their living rooms. Do you know what I mean? The quality isn’t defined by any of these practices of course, but it seems to be present in women who do those sorts of things. Women who have some sort of earthy connection to the divine, and you would almost think it’s just small-town fundamentalism but it’s not because these women also watch the Discovery Channel. Maybe it’s just some sort of surreal Southern Utah mineral that he eats and extrudes in his paintings somehow, and maybe the women in his life that he paints are just nutritionally primed to emit whatever serene righteousness rays it is that I’m picking up from his paintings. But there’s something behind it, and Brian Kershisnik knows what it is because he paints it, on purpose, over and over again.
Well, now was finally my chance. Here I was, with the man himself, and it was time for me to ask the question that had been burning within me: “Why do all the women in your paintings wear dresses?”
He looked startled. His eyes darted back up to the screen he had been displaying images on. “Do they?” he asked.
“Yes! They all do! I always imagined there was some sort of cultural message buried there. I’ve been wanting to know for years why your women look so Super Mormon; suspended between centuries.”
He flipped through a few slides, verifying that all of his women were wearing dresses. “Hmm,” he said thoughtfully, “it looks like they do.” He paused, and I sat breathlessly waiting for him to continue with his grand revelation. “I think it’s because I like to paint patterns and a dress is a big open space to paint a pattern.”
He smiled beneficently at me and then took the next question.