This Martha's Vineyard painter works on his porch
Photo by Gwyn McAllister
Painter Brian Kirkpatrick's "studio" is the front porch of the Oak Bluffs Campground cottage he shares with his wife, Stephanie. Many who pass by stop to admire, inquire about, and even offer advice on his work.
"I'm critiqued every day," says Mr. Kirkpatrick. "Everyone in the Campground knows who I am. Tourists walk by. They'll say 'I love it,' and then you know you've got it."
The small house right behind Simply Soaps on Circuit Avenue was purchased 23 years ago by Mr. Kirkpatrick, a folk art dealer and artist. It's full of interesting rustic antiques such as a lamp made from a trombone and a huge sign from a tourist attraction in New Hampshire.
Some passersby even become regular clients. One client stopped by recently with the Prince and Princess of Lichtenstein.
"We didn't even know where Lichtenstein was," says Ms. Kirkpatrick. The royal couple, according to Mr. Kirkpatrick, has the largest private collection of old masters in the world. And though they haven't purchased any of Mr. Kirkpatrick's paintings, he says, "They loved my work."
Mr. Kirkpatrick's fans extend well beyond visitors to the Campground. The self-taught folk artist shows his work in Mystic, Conn., and Naples, Fla., as well as here at the weekly Vineyard Artisans Festivals. A retrospective of his work from 2003 to the present is featured currently at the Old Sculpin Gallery.
Mr. Kirkpatrick only recently started painting. During most of the '90s, the former painting contractor owned an art gallery in Mystic but didn't pick up a paint brush himself until 2002, when the beauty of Venice inspired him. During a trip there, he bought some watercolor supplies on a whim and quickly discovered a talent – and a passion – for painting.
His highly stylized acrylic paintings are notable for their bright colors, simple lines, and design quality. Ms. Kirkpatrick notes that her husband's style has gone through a myriad of changes over the years. "When he first started he was Grandma Moses, then William Prior [both primitive folk artists]. He's been evolving. His subjects are rustic in nature.
An avid fisherman, Mr. Kirkpatrick includes a lot of fish and fishing images in his work. A colorful, Escher-esque depiction of interlocking fish is perhaps his most iconic image. A new series, titled "Fantasy Baseball," features designs made up of varicolored baseballs.
He also does portraits of people he finds interesting, like a horse whisperer who competed at the Ag Fair, and Bob Pacheco of Reliable Market. "Being a folk artist, I love to do characters," says Mr. Kirkpatrick. Among his most recent work is a portrait of one of his local client's two labradoodles. It's an allegory in a sense, with the family's four children represented by small sailboats in the background and the dogs' collars and leashes featuring the Union Jack to signify the family's ties to Great Britain.
The Connecticut native is a sponsor of the Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, and for the past three years he has donated a fishing-themed painting – as well as a number of his signature painted cigar boxes – for a derby raffle. Mr. Kirkpatrick provides art work to the redbone fishing tournaments for cystic fibrosis in Florida. He also helped raise money for a little boy who needed a heart transplant.
His work has been purchased by some serious art collectors and a few celebrities, including actor Bill Murray and hoopster John Havlicek. One of Mr. Kirkpatrick's biggest clients is comedy agent James Dixon, whose clients include Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Mr. Dixon bought a painting at Mr. Kirkpatrick's first show at the Treehouse Gallery in 2003 and has commissioned a portrait of his two labradoodle dogs.
Despite his success, Mr. Kirkpatrick still takes the time to talk to visitors curious about his work or life in the Campgrounds. He paints for eight hours every day, waking up at four in the morning and working in his living room until around eight, when he sets up his easel on the small front porch.
This past spring a baby squirrel began stopping by daily. He now has a name – Tuxedo – and is a fixture in the makeshift studio. "He comes and watches me every day. He just sits there and literally watches my hand," says Mr. Kirkpatrick.
The very down-to-earth artist draws inspiration from life in the little, close-knit neighborhood. "It's the best place to paint," he says, "There are always kids on scooters and families. It's like a Norman Rockwell setting in the summer. You see so many characters here."
For more information on Mr. Kirkpatrick, call 860-235-6577 or visit bkfolkart.com.