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South Mountain


The Folk Art of Brian Kirkpatrick

by Amelia Smith

Folk artist Brian Kirkpatrick is entirely self-taught. As such, his paintings display the naiveté and primitive style typical of “folk art.” His paintings celebrate the joy to be found in the simple things and they can harken us back to simpler times. This is what the best folk art does. Not only does it tell a story or capture a moment in time, but it can sometimes send us back to a place remembered only in the very back of our mind. Brian’s work, typical of much folk art, challenges the viewer only as much as the viewer wants to be challenged. Taken at face value, the scenes are simple , usually happy. But, the viewer can delve deeper if they wish: there are complex stories to be shared in many of Brian’s paintings.

Anavid outdoorsman, Brian has chronicled in his paintings the activities of countless fisherman, birds, and wildlife. Brian is also a lover of antiques, which find their way into many charming still life paintings. He captures the charm and beauty in every day events, such as the county fair, a lobster dinner or an old car rumbling down the street. He paints many portraits of the colorful characters that populate his haunts; characters who inevitably define a region- be they Menemsha Lobstermen emptying their pots, a town historian spinning yarns or an old horse whisperer giving his four-hoofed friend a brushing.

Brian starts work early. “Many nights before going to sleep a scene pops into my head,” he says. At four o’clock in the morning his canvas and his imagination are primed and ready to go. He paints in the living room of the Campground cottage he shares with his wife Stephanie. As the day brightens, he moves out onto the porch. Through the day, neighbors, tourists and children stop to watch him work, asking questions and sometimes coming in to see more of his art. “People are critiquing me all day,” Brian says. The critiques don’t slow him down, though. Rather, he finds the feedback encouraging. “That’s what is so wonderful about being in this house, you can just walk in. I know I’ve got a really good painting when the kids come by and they say, ’that is too cool.’”

Brian’s early work with his grandfather turned out to be the perfect segway into the artist he is today. As his grandfather’s clients aged and passed away, Brian took the opportunity to re-invent himself as an artist. Having the experience working with colors, textures and forms made for a natural transition into the art world.

Brian paints on cigar boxes, using them as studies before starting work on a larger canvas. With handles fashioned from fishing lures, the boxes become unique handbags. Fishing, from lures to catch, is a perennial theme in Brian’s work. One image which he’s explored and recreated many times is a table full of fish, one over the other, filling every corner. He’s painted it small and large, in a variety of colors, as a triptych and in single frames. Another favorite is a collection of lures, from a loose center, playing on a bright field. Boats, Jeeps and fisherman have their part in the story too, with an image of the catch, made large by perspective, in the foreground.

He paints other sports-inspired themes, people and imaginative renderings of island scenes, some of which include his beloved Jack Russell Terrier, Riley, who passed away this spring at the age of 18. “He’s still in my paintings,” Brian says. Painting can keep a memory alive. “That painting there, that’s Bobby Flanders, he was a lobsterman in Menemsha. He’s deceased now, but people love to see him”.

One of Brian’s greatest joys is giving his art for a cause. “The real satisfaction for me comes when someone asks me:’ ‘Can you donate a painting?’” The Martha’s Vineyard Derby is one of his favorite causes. “I love hearing stories during the derby down at that little tiny diner in Edgartown (Dock Street). You can get all the tips there early in the morning, where they’re supposedly getting their best fish.” The Derby is a highlight of Brian’s year. He donates one of his paintings to be auctioned at the end of the Derby, raising money for scholarships and more. He has also contributed paintings in support of the Redbone fly fishing tournament, Cystic Fibrosis charities, The Farm Institute, and for a fundraiser for kids in Nairobi run by one of his first art students. He recently donated art work to a help a 3 year old boy raise money for a life-saving heart transplant. He gives enthusiastically and often.

The beginnings of Brian’s career as an artist were nearly as casual as stopping by for a porch-side chat. In just a few short years, Brian Kirkpatrick has made an impact on the art world of the areas he frequents. Whatever picture Brian portrays, he fills his work with enthusiasm and joy, bringing a spot of brightness to the day. When people take Brian’s work back to their high stress offices in the city, it helps them get through the day. They say: “It makes me smile”

Brian’s work can be seen on Sundays at the Vineyard Artisans Festival located at the Grange Hall and The Old Sculpin Gallery in Edgartown. Brian also shows his work at Redbone Gallery- Islamorada, FL.