Our Arts Showcase Winner: Jerry Lee Kirk

— Arts expands the narrative on access to opportunity in our city.

By: Loán C. Lake

The arts have the powerful ability to evoke emotions, inspiration, awareness, connections and creativity – important elements that increase our empathy for others and remind us of our shared humanity. Recognizing this, Leading on Opportunity hosted its first artist showcase --A Tale of Two Charlottes: Hope Through Art on June 25, 2019. The evening, which took place at Salud Cerveceria in NoDa, featured Charlotte artists of various talents (music, photography, poetry, fashion, and more) who shed powerful perspectives on expanding the narrative on access to opportunity in our city.

Award-winning expressionist painter and visual artist Jerry Lee Kirk won the artist showcase with his work, Starving Poets Dance Despite Their Circumstance for Art Is Also Sustenance. Most noted as the recipient of an Emerging Artist Grant from the Arts and Science Council, Kirk and his wife have lived in Charlotte for almost three decades. He is a former newspaper editorial cartoonist and graphic designer from Falls Church, Virginia, who built a career in advertising. Although he was drawing before he could talk, Kirk became a self-taught painter at age thirty and has exhibited his work in art galleries throughout the east coast, including Ward-Nasse Gallery in NYC, Waterworks Gallery in Salisbury, NC, R.J. Reynolds Gallery in Winston-Salem, NC, Center of the Earth in Charlotte, NC, and The Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh, NC. His work is included in private collections around the world.

Kirk works out of his home studio in South Charlotte where he lives with his wife Lisa and daughter Elysia. He is currently working on a new piece entitled A King, A Clown and Businessman.

Jerry Lee Kirk shares his thoughts with Leading on Opportunity about the importance of using his art to effect change in our community in this interview:

Leading on Opportunity: What is the meaning behind your winning piece, “Starving Poets Dance Despite Their Circumstance for Art Is Also Sustenance?”

Jerry Lee Kirk: I used poets because they are the most romantic of all the arts. When you think about the fact that so many artists struggle to make ends meet and yet remain very passionate about their work, it is extremely powerful. They really love what they do, and I wanted to convey that on canvas.

Leading on Opportunity: What makes you so passionate about the issues impacting our community?

Jerry Lee Kirk: When I first started painting at age thirty after working as a freelance illustrator and cartoonist, the first things that drew me were political and social commentary. My initial foray was conveying things in society that bothered me and that would grab people. I wanted to do work that had deeper meaning and wasn’t just decorative. Painting allowed me to do that. Although I have transitioned to doing expressionist landscapes, I am continually drawn back to my origins -- work that conveys social concerns.

Leading on Opportunity: What gives you hope?

Jerry Lee Kirk: I have been in Charlotte for almost thirty years and it has definitely grown! When my wife and I first got here, uptown was like a ghost town, so it’s changed in terms of things to do and the entertainment value. I really cut my teeth as a painter in North Charlotte before it was NoDa and showed my work in the second and third [art] galleries to open at that time. The owner of the local bar, Pat’s Time For One More, rented us space. Over time we saw a renewed interest in what had become a crime-ridden area as more artists moved into the area and gallery crawls emerged. Visitors began to frequent the neighborhood in droves because we – the artists, had helped to create a destination of value that benefited our entire city. I just see Charlotte continuously growing with more artists coming in, areas like Camp North End that are promising for artists, and the explosion of murals around the city. Charlotte is morphing from a banking town into something more attractive and alive for outsiders.

Leading on Opportunity: Why was it important for you to participate in this artist showcase?

Jerry Lee Kirk: I was drawn to it from the time I saw the title. I know how art can affect people and evoke change. I saw the transformation that art made in North Charlotte. I was there and I've seen the impact it has on people and areas.

Leading on Opportunity: Why do you think art can do this?

Jerry Lee Kirk: Art makes people feel happy and better about their lives and themselves. Art also has the ability to transform the lives of the people who create it. Some folks may not have known what to do with their lives, or may have felt downtrodden before becoming artists, but making art turned them into more positive beings. Art has a transformative effect on people who are open to it.

Connect with Jerry Lee Kirk: jerrykirk.com | Facebook: The Art of Jerry Lee Kirk | Instagram: @jerrykirkcreations

Other featured artists from the artist showcase included: Alvin Jacobs (Photography), Davita Galloway (Fashion), Hannah Hasan (Spoken Word), Shawn Glover (Live Artist), Juanita Green (Singer), Juan Eduardo Martinez (Visual Artist), Ernesto Hernandez (Visual Artist), and Jovan Allen (DJ Mook).

Viewthe photo album from A Tale of Two Charlottes: Hope Through Art on our Facebook page.