The Nativity

The monumental painting “Nativity” by Brian Kershinik currently hangs in the BYU Museum of Art.

He came. He came. Thank God, He came.

by Charles Kelley

PHILOMATH, Oregon – Every nativity painting is the product of the Biblical text plus the imagination of the artist. Some renditions are more fascinating than others. As I observe these paintings, I look for unique insights and angles that painters may include or emphasize.

One such example comes from the primitive-realist painter, Brian Kershinik of Provo, Utah. This monumental piece (5.2 meters or 17 feet wide) is packed with surprises:

Kershinik creates emotionally real paintings rather than historically focused ones. He says he “densely witnessed” the births of his own children and these experiences inspired this painting. Let’s look closer.  

Notice Mary nursing baby Jesus. Beside her are two caring midwives. I wonder if the artist’s wife was also helped by two midwives. 

And Joseph, look at Joseph! Was the artist wondering how he would have felt if his wife just gave birth to Messiah? Joseph is on his knees behind his wife covering his right eye with his hand. I can hear him express his overwhelmed state, “Oy vey! Now what I have gotten myself into?”

Do you see the dog? Why a dog? Actually, the dog has a litter of puppies. Kershinik says the dog is a representation of fidelity and faithfulness. He says that the presence of the dogs renders the inclusion of other animals unnecessary. 

Now, turn with me to the hovering mass surrounding the little family. The artist’s view of angels is unique, as he includes men, women, older people, younger people, and babies. They each have distinct faces with a variety of expressions…curiosity, happiness, joy, zeal, and reverence.

What are they doing? Each one is focused on the nativity; those on the left clamor to see; those hovering immediately above the holy family want to linger; and those who have already seen can’t wait to tell others. 

The artist’s final description of the piece: “Part of our attraction to these dramatic endings is because it is, in part, our story too. He said He would come. Then impossibly and improbably, He did, but not as we would have expected. Certainly, the epic drama of redemption is far from over, but the message to me is this: He came. He came. Thank God, He came.”

I enjoy Kershinik’s fresh overview of the nativity and I echo his sentiment:

He came. He came. Thank God, He came.

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