Kermit Oliver

Kermit Oliver is an artist from Texas who is one of those great and quiet stars among us.  He has a moving story, aired on October 21, 2012 on NPR’s All Things Considered as the result of an excellent piece written by Jason Sheeler for the October 2012 issue of Texas Monthly “Portrait of the Artist as a Postman”.

Listen to the conversation here NPR story on Kermit Oliver

On the surface Mr. Oliver’s work is an amazingly accurate portrayal of animals and flowers, and also of people who populate his life story.  It is representational work with a boldness and simplicity that is powerful.  He is the postman who paints, and is the only American artist to design scarves for Hermes.

I heard him speak on Saturday in the wonderfully intimate setting of the Hooks-Epstein Gallery which was so full I had to sit on the floor – just because I wanted to see the artist up close.  He is a lovely man who spoke very softly, partly because he does and partly because he wasn’t feeling well.  But he answered questions and spoke for over one hour.  Behind his quiet voice, with eyes sometimes closed while speaking, sat a man who thinks a great deal, and has accumulated wisdom through the sorrow and joys of life.  His talent is obvious even in the weak representation of the photos on this blog.  He makes the white frames that accompany the work.

The “Ham Suspended from Twine” is one of my favorite pieces because of the dramatic light, like the chiaroscuro of Rembrandt and Zubaran..  Mr. Oliver began describing the subject of the hanging ham as a common image of his childhood in Texas where meats would hang in the family smoke house.  As for the amazing effect of the light on the ham, he laughed as he described what many artists also fear:  that he would not stop before he ruined it.  Mr. Oliver let go of his brush at the perfect time.  The effect of light is stunning.  Apparently he painted the background after the ham because he noted that he wasn’t sure he had succeeded with the light effects until he was finished.  The blank white piece of paper floating in the upper right hand corner is symbolic of the fragility of life:  we each write our own story, but like the paper will float away and disappear.  Mr. Oliver also said the paper was like the parchment paper used in the mazuzahs found in some Jewish homes – on the paper is written a prayer to acknowledge God’s presence in the home.

See his work at Hooks-Epstein Gallery in Houston.  “Ham Suspended from Twine”:


“Primate Above A Garden Gathering”:“Butterfly with Emerging Moth”:

About Harriet

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