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Christmas - Brian Kershisnik: Nativity

Brian Kershisnik: Nativity

The Nativity in Six Point Perspective

by Kim Williams

There is much to ponder in Brian Kershisnik's epically scaled (7’ x 17’) painting Nativity.

There are the attentive midwives, eyes shining with hands perched at the ready for care-giving service. Their presence is a charitable and believable addition to the scene. As Kershisnik explains, “The chance of a young woman having her first child away from her usual residence and not being attended by women (even strangers) seems to me very unlikely. Women would come. They would hear; they would help. I feel sure of it.”

The inquisitive hound and her pups are the only creatures seemingly privy to the great throng of witnesses. Distinctively different from a stable animal, the artist chose a dog as “they have long been a symbol of fidelity in western art, so I put them in since Jesus’ coming is the ultimate and most impossible example of keeping the unfathomable promise of his essential condescension.”

Mary, a mite disheveled but focused intently on the necessary task at hand, is nurturing her newborn. She seems settled and engaged, leaning into her own words, “I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say.” (Luke 1:38, The Message)

Jesus, so fresh from the womb, is discovering how to breathe and suckle, becoming embodied. He is glistening and not yet a healthy colour. Except for a vaguely shimmering halo (and celestial guests!), he is a babe like every other babe, seeking nourishment and comfort.

Then there is Joseph, the visual center of this reeling narrative work. Joseph holds his head in a mixed expression of relief and disorientation. On a human and divine scale he’s been through a lot! His hand to face gesture – what in the world just happened? – is visceral and familiar to us all, when living into circumstances that challenge us but to which we have said “Yes.” And that Yes is witnessed to in his other gesture. While his right hand holds his head, his left hand is resolutely on his wife’s shoulder. “Steady on. I’m here, I’m with you in this.” He is not entirely sure what is going on, but he is present and staying put.  There is a courageous authenticity in this portrayal of Joseph for any of us holding bewilderment and belief in tension.

Lastly, the curious heavenly crowd, pressed down, is spilling over onto the scene in a wave of wonder. They wait their turn to peek at the child, then surge forward with arms and voices raised in adulation. Their forward, ongoing movement leads the viewer’s imagination past the picture plane and emulates the movement of Advent itself—that Christ came and will come again in the ongoing work of redemption. 

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Brian Kershisnik: Nativity, 2006, oil on canvas, 7’ x 17’, copyright Brian T. Kershisnik, Used with permission. 

Brian Kershiknik (born 1962) is a contemporary American painter. He studied art at the University of Utah, Brigham Young University and the University of Texas at Austin. He sums up his artistic philosophy in the following statement: "There is great importance in successfully becoming human, in striving to fully understand others, ourselves, and God. The process is difficult and filled with awkward discoveries and happy encounters, dreadful sorrow, and unmitigated joy sometimes several at once. I believe art should facilitate this journey, rather than simply decorate it, or worse, distract us from it. It should remind us of what we have forgotten, illuminate what we know, or teach us new things. Through art we can come to feel and understand and love more completely—we become more human... I firmly believe that when a painting succeeds, I have not created it, but rather participated in it. I paint because I love, and because I love to paint. The better I become at both, the more readily accessed and identified is this grace, and the better will be my contribution." (Kershisnik, Brian. "LDS Artwork by Brian Kershisnkik" Latter-Day Home). Kershisnik is represented by multiple galleries including Meyer Gallery, David Ericson Fine Art, New Vision Art, Cocoon Works on Paper, and Saatchi Art. 

Kim Williams is both artist and educator. After receiving an Associate’s Degree in Christian Education and a Bachelor’s degree in Art Education, she has taught children for the last 25 years. She taught art in public and private schools in Missouri and Kansas and was the Children’s Minister for eight years at St. John’s Anglican Church in Vancouver, British Columbia, where she regularly and zealously incorporated the visual arts into her work with children and their families. Currently she works as an instructor for the Wayne Art Center in Wayne, PA. Like a good educator, she is a generalist and when not teaching others, turns to one of the several mediums she has used over the years for her creative output, from oil paint to charcoal, pastels to printmaking. 

ArtWay Visual Meditation December 23, 2018

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