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An Artist Among Us

Text by: Jacque Crosswell Watene
Art by: Kerry Soper

Kerry Soperís paintings are truly as inspiring as the man himself. In each image, there is a sense of something living and breathing, some unseen entity that beckons the onlooker to stare just a moment longer than they had intended.

Iíll admit, I was a little nervous about meeting my younger sisterís college professor for an interview. She had spoken of him, and his talent for writing and painting, with such awe and reverence that I wondered if I was worthy of begging an audience of him. Maybe I still find the idea of standing on common ground with a teacher a bit intimidating, or maybe, as our first featured local artist in the Polite Society world, I was unsure that he would ďfit the bill,Ē so to speak. I imagined, as I knocked on the door of his home in the small town of Orem, Utah, a somewhat elderly man with bushy, gray hair, fogged glasses, and a sour disposition. A gross generalization, I know. The last thing I expected was for the door to be opened by a young, handsome, casually dressed (cargo shorts, a T-shirt, and sandals) guy. I wondered for a moment if I had the right address. He introduced himself, and I immediately felt at ease. This was my kind of person: artistic in nature, but not eccentric; a true family man (five children and a beautiful, soft-spoken wife); and a professor of humanities, a man who cares deeply for the history, accomplishments, plights, and progressions of the human race. The course of the interview ran rather naturally as my curiosity guided the questions I was most interested in knowing the answers to: How in the world does one juggle family life, success in the work environment, writing a book and having it published and well-received, spirituality, and the constant drive to create artistically? First, a little background... Kerry Soper was raised in Farmington, Utah and spent his high school years in Atlanta, Georgia, and Provo, Utah. After graduating from high school, he moved with his family to Spring City, Utah Ė a sleepy town in the central part of the state where he discovered his favorite sites and subjects for painting: the fields, trees, and mountains of the arid, but cultivated, Utah landscape. After attending Snow College for a year, then spending some time abroad in France, he attended Utah State University and married Lisa Taylor. For graduate studies, he attended Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Along the way, he and his wife had five children and now live in Orem, Utah. Kerry is now an associate professor in the Humanities and American Studies programs at Brigham Young University.

Polite Society:
How much of what you create is self-taught, and how much of it have you pulled from your extensive studies in your field?
Kerry Soper:
I think itís a little of both. I studied art with Osral Allred and Carl Purcell for a year at Snow College and then pursued a B.F.A. in commercial art at Utah State University. But I also credit artists Adrian Van Sutchlen and Glenn Edwards for trying to teach me how to see sensitively and draw with care. Also, I am indebted to local artist, Chris Terry, as well for introducing me to oil painting and essential design principles.
PS:
Are there any artists, period genres, or styles of which inspires your art the most?
KS:
I think any artist is inspired by a certain era, as well as styles of art, that shows through to the art that is embedded within them. Itís important to study an array of subjects, as well as many other artists, to see which areas speak the most to you. For me, I studied the history of popular visual arts of the 19th and early 20th century America during my time at Emory. I also worked as an illustrator, doing political cartoons and illustrations for humor magazines. After graduate school, my family and I moved back to Spring City, Utah while I finished my dissertation and looked for a full-time teaching job. It was in Spring City where I began oil painting again and benefited from the mentorship of another local artist, Michael Workman. Other artists who have influenced my work include Jean Baptiste, Camille Corot, George Inness, Maynard Dixon, and Richard Schmid.
PS:
You seem to be a very well-rounded artist, balancing art with work, family, spiritual, and civic duties. How are you able to accomplish great things in so many areas?
KS:
Balancing all of those various duties is really tricky. I find that I have to guard my painting time jealously, to make it a high priority, or else other obligations will eat up that time. That's tricky sometimes in a culture that often sees creative activity as something self-indulgent. Luckily, I have a spouse who helps me to protect that time and supports my efforts even when they occasionally impact some of my home duties. I recently had to resign from being on a community arts council because it ate too much of that creative time. It makes me wonder if there are seasons in an artist's career when they have to be a little bit selfish in terms of simplifying community obligations. And then later, when kids are grown and work duties are less intense, that time for community work can come to the forefront.
PS:
What fuels your drive to create?
KS:
My drive to create feels like an essential part of my daily life now, like engaging in personal spiritual study or exercising the body. If I'm not continually working on a fresh body of paintings and a few writing projects, both creative and academic, I feel slothful and unfulfilled. I receive a great deal of satisfaction out of conceiving, executing, and solving creative problems.
PS:
Where do you envision yourself as an artist in 10 years?
KS:
In ten years I would like to be where I'm at now - still free to pursue art as a valid second career. I'd be happy to keep painting without necessarily selling any art, but the pressures of everyday life make it critical that I do succeed on the monetary end so that I can keep at it. Respect and acknowledgment from gallery owners and collectors is also important - another official indicator that what you're doing has legitimacy and worth. So for practical (rather than egotistical) reasons, I guess that it would also be nice to have established myself by then as an important, Utah painter.

Villa in Tuscany

Venice in Fall

Late Spring Runoff

Late Evening Aspens