That Time Brian Kershisnik Answered My Question

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.

White On Rice – a full review and ticket giveaway

I mentioned briefly the opportunity to see the Utah premiere of White on Rice last weekend. Well, the bad news is that I know nothing so far of future cities the film may open in and whether or not it will make it to Minneapolis, New York or Wichita Falls. (I’m leaning towards a bit of brutal pessimism towards the poor folks of Wichita Falls, but I’ll keep gunning for you!). The good news is, it’s been held over for another week in Salt Lake and Provo. The best news is that we here at Motley Vision have the opportunity to give away four pairs of free tickets for this weekend’s shows!

To enter the drawing for the free tickets, you may do one of three things: Give a shout out to the movie on Twitter, as your Facebook status, or as a group email to your friends. Then either send a cc of the email or a link to your Twitter/Facebook status to tigerindustryfilms@gmail.com. The drawing will be held at 5:00pm Mountain Time on Thursday, Oct. 1. Winners will receive a Fandango confirmation number to their show of choice. So the contest is done entirely by email and you have no tickets to pick up anywhere. Let the games begin!

Now, onto a little fuller explanation of the film.

Continue reading “White On Rice – a full review and ticket giveaway”

The Most Satisfyingly Quirky Mormon Movie You’ll See This Year

Apologies for breaking into your Saturday with an impertinent spur of the moment AMV post, but I just saw the Mormon movie I’ve been waiting to see and there is a limited chance this weekend for those of you in Utah to get to attend a screening and meet the director and actors, so I thought I’d best get the word out.

Perhaps I’d better qualify my use of the phrase “Mormon Movie.” (Re-hashing the eternal question, of course) Director/Co-Writer Dave Boyle is a BYU grad and served a Japanese-speaking mission. His serendipitous friendship with Hiroshi Watanabe turned into a witty comedy idea and thus was born White on Rice. It’s only about as “Mormon” as Napoleon Dynamite, but it’s unique, refreshing, international, and thoroughly satisfying. I may just prefer it to Jared Hess’s work – it’s every bit as quirky and postmodern (without all the depressing postmodern existentialism that taints the almost-brilliant films like 500 Days of Summer that the American independent market produces) without being as over-the-top. It’s a comedy you still feel respectable after watching. And it reminds us that the world’s got a lot more stories to tell, even if we do have to film them on location in Salt Lake City.

I don’t want to predispose you too much one way or the other – just go to it with my word that it’s funny and unique and report back with your reflections. I’d love to hear some other perspectives.

The film opened a few weeks ago in California and is still showing in Orange County, San Francisco and San Jose, and it’s opening in Salt Lake and Provo this weekend and will be in the theaters for at least a week, more if it does well. There are dates scheduled in Denver and Honolulu, with more cities to be announced as the self-distributing film rolls on. See a complete list of theaters here.

Of special interest are the showings which will be attended by Boyle, Watanabe and child co-star Justin Kwong, with a question and answer period to follow. These will be today, September 26, at 11:55 am and 2:10 pm at the Provo Town Center Cinemark and then at 7:15 and 9:30 pm in Salt Lake at the Century 16. The movies will be showing at these two theaters throughout the week, but these specific screenings will also have the Q&A sessions.

ぜひ、見にいらっしゃて下さい。面白くて、とてもすばらしい映画です!

Museums, Fantasy, and the Redemption of Naked Ladies: a review of the SMA's Spring Salon

Many of the famous artists that made their way into history books first broke into the the public consciousness when they were featured the Paris Salon, an annual exhibition of the French government’s Académie des Beaux-Arts. The Salon functioned as the official sanction of the art world and could make or break a painter’s career.

Edouard Dantan's "Un Coin du Salon en 1880"
Edouard Dantan's Un Coin du Salon en 1880

The strength of the Salon’s influence is perhaps most evident in the drama that ultimately tore down its authority – the  Salon de Refusés of 1863 in which many “refused” artists, among them the radical impressionists like Manet and Whistler, exhibited work that the Academy had sneered at. The Salon eventually splintered and waned in importance, but the concept of the juried show lives on. Each year, the Springville Museum of Art holds a Spring Salon, which is not exclusively Mormon art, but is definitely Utah art, and it is my personal belief that the Spring Salon is where Mormonism’s burgeoning Manets and Davids may well first show up.

I’m going to end the analogy there, though, because I don’t want to speculate about what on earth a Utah Salon de Refusés would look like.

The 85th annual Utah Spring Salon is on display in Springville until July 5th and I hereby exhort you with all the feeling of a tender stranger from the internet to get yourself there and take it in. It’s a wonderful exhibition every year, but this year it’s particularly grand.

Continue reading “Museums, Fantasy, and the Redemption of Naked Ladies: a review of the SMA's Spring Salon”

Mormon Fine Art and Graven Images

(this is the first in a series of six posts on the Pillars of Mormon Art)

…thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
(Exodus 20:4)

This little verse has caused more turmoil in art and in history throughout the monotheistic world than perhaps any other. It characterizes Islamic art, which for centuries has avoided the depiction of any living creature, for the fear that the artist who tried to create was usurping the role of the One true Creator. It characterizes the turmoil in Byzantium, it crops up again in the Protestant reformation, which sees Netherlanders whitewashing their cathedrals to separate themselves from their Catholic Belgian cousins. Its subsequent transformation into anti-religious fervor is the battle cry of the French revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks, and the Communists in China. In more recent years, it rears an impious head as the Taliban government of Afghanistan destroys monumental Buddhist sculpture.

And faithful Latter-day Saints find themselves alternately sympathizing with both viewpoints.

Continue reading “Mormon Fine Art and Graven Images”

Pillars of Mormon Art

Six Theological Pillars for the Art of God’s People

Now, if that’s not a daunting title, I don’t know what is. It was enough to pique my curiosity, though, and I left work early on Friday, November 7th to attend Vern Swanson’s thusly-named presentation at the Biennial Art, Belief, Meaning Symposium, Picturing the Divine, at the BYU Museum of Art.

Swanson is one of my favorite Mormon Art Curmudgeons, and not a very curmudgeonly one at that. He’s a wacky art guy, yes, but he’s downright jolly. The afternoon presentations were limited to a half hour, and unfortunately so was the culmination of the day – the panel discussion featuring Swanson, painter Brian Kershisnik, painter/professor Bruce Smith and BYU-H religion professor Keith Lane. A test in Chinese class had prevented me from attending Kershisnik’s keynote speech in the morning, and I was anxious to hear more while we had all these fantastic Mormon Art brains together in one room. But the limited time was well-spent, and I was left with all kinds of buzzy little concepts floating around in my brain, not to mention the cramp in my hand from trying to get as much as I could into my little spiral-bound notebook.

While the presentations were all independently interesting, I’ve decided to share my thoughts on them all in one over-arching framework. And Swanson provided such a framework very handily – his presentation focused on what he called the six pillars of Mormon art. I would like to break my comments, interspersed with what the presenters had to say and examples and commentary from the contemporary Mormon art world, into six separate discussions, to be published here – well, let’s be realistic – whenever I get the chance to write them. The first one will appear within the week.

As an introduction, however, here are the six pillars defined by Swanson:

  • The Bible’s injunction against graven images
  • Wisehearted art as “curious workmanship” and “cunning wisdom”
  • The Book of Mormon’s view of art as a sign of arrogance
  • “There is Beauty All Around” – decorative and collaborative art
  • Art as a showpiece – proof of greatness
  • Art as an agent for “softening one’s heart”

I look forward to discussing them with you.

Mormon Art in Belbury

I’d been reading medieval Japanese literature for a few weeks (ah, the joys of going back to school) and really didn’t have time to pick up a novel, but it was a bit of an emotional and social necessity. So I walked down to the library on a warm summer evening a few weeks ago and looked for a copy of That Hideous Strength, the third and final book in C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy. I own a copy of my own, but most of my books are in a storage unit until I can finally live somewhere that allows me to have furniture. It vexes. But I digress.

I fear the connection here may seem tenuous. Lewis is not, after all, a Mormon author, as much as we’d long to appropriate him. But neither was the art exhibition I had looked forward to actually Mormon art. Come to think of it, the only Mormon factor in this entire train of thought is me. Let’s see how far-fetched we can get.

The most recent exhibition to open at the BYU Museum of Art is quite a departure from their previous featured exhibitions. Beholding Salvation was a collection so doctrine-centric that it seemed to pay no heed to any sort of artistic cohesion. Not that I’m criticizing – there is room for this unique curatorial approach, especially in the peculiarly insular Utah art scene. It was extremely popular with the viewing public, even (especially?) those who don’t usually consider themselves part of the Art Elite. Last year, they featured Pageants in Paint, a huge retrospective of Minerva Teichert’s work. Again – clearly Mormon art – but it was an exhibition that featured wonderful scholarship and a thematic cohesion that’s nice to see at the MoA. Last week, their newest exhibit opened: Turning Point: The Demise of Modernism and the Rebirth of Meaning in American Art. This exhibit makes no claims to be Mormon, nor does it take into consideration at all the doctrinal or even cultural foundations of Mormonism. It just happens to be in Utah. And it’s fairly successful, for what it is. It makes a clean, concise, didactic little statement about what happened to the Art Establishment in the 60s. It re-hashes Clement Greenberg. They even managed to get a Frank Stella piece on loan and it’s awful pretty. The exhibition as a whole is every bit as thought-provoking as minimalist statements and cultureless attempts at conceptual art tend to be. Which is, to say, it is entirely bankrupt of meaning and soul and it casts a dramatic spotlight across the gulf that separates Mormonism as a worldview from the secular fine art establishment.

Continue reading “Mormon Art in Belbury”

Confronting Polygamy from the Other Side

When my friend Marla told people in our 11th grade English class that she was Mormon, I assumed she must be in 2nd Ward. When she started passing out pamphlets with a picture of the Salt Lake temple titled “What Mormons Believe,” I was impressed with her gumption in taking opportunities to do missionary work. When I found out she grew up in Pinesdale, I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and had a hard time looking her in the eye for a couple days.

Continue reading “Confronting Polygamy from the Other Side”