By Elizabeth Speth
Forgive me. I’m about to get carried away here about a beautiful thing. This is a local story, in that one of my favorite artists is about to open his own gallery nearby, a long-overdue and well-deserved cause for celebration.
But this is also a global thing. Because the artist, Kermit Pahkum McCourt, firmly believes that beauty should be accessible to everyone. He prices his work accordingly, and at his rate of production, there might just be enough to go around.
I don’t know what else to call this but a study in mind-blowingly talented generosity.
I remember when I first met McCourt, at his work space in an industrial area near a rural stretch of freeway. He and his dog were there alone, surrounded by a breathtaking array of sculptures, paintings, furniture, garden installations and light fixtures. Eventually he added jewelry to the list of things he creates beautifully. I tracked down his work at the Flower Farm, a local coffee shop/ art gallery in my hometown of Loomis, CA, and gasped at the price tags. In a good way. Shock gave way immediately to the tingle of possibility at taking these wonderful things home to enjoy every day. There is no other feeling like it.
He only creates with things that are existing. Canvases can be old glass windows in frames, sheets of metal, rough slabs of wood.
Everything he turns into beauty had a life before. There is no waste. There is only re-creation. You won’t believe what his eyes find in the jaded, faded, dented, twisted, rusted and discarded. That glorious approach to creation in a world that already has too many things, in a society that throws away without thought, deeply enhances the enjoyment of his work.
He is prolific. Unbelievably productive. Diverse. Tangential. Pioneering. Constant. Copious. There is always, always something new and different coming out of his studio. Jewelry. Ties made of wood. Paintings. This is a good thing. Because wherever he displays his work for sale, it is gone almost immediately. And there is always more. All of it wonderful.
What drives this fierce, powerful artistic engine? How to account for so much beauty at such a furious pace?
“Personal freedom,” he says simply. “While I’m painting I feel no pain. I’m free.”
McCourt is fast and loose with the fruits of his pursuit of freedom. They are meant for you and for me to have. For a song. With love from the artist. In fact, you can identify his work by the trailing signature at the bottom of the canvases, but also by the word ‘love’, which he usually scrawls somewhere on the back, out of sight when the piece is hung, but there like a warm secret nonetheless.
McCourt was born in 1981 in Susanville Ca. His early childhood was spent in the high desert near Litchfield, which he called “rural living at its finest, (with a) generator to power the well pump, kerosene lanterns for light, and an outhouse.”
His father Mike McCourt is a general contractor, and the years McCourt spent working with him and learning the trade have profoundly informed his art. He can transform a piece of wood into anything, wire the light fixtures he builds. twist scrap metal into beautiful and massive sculpture.
“I could swing a hammer ever since I can remember what a hammer looked like,” McCourt says simply.
His mother Marlene Kramer remains one of his most ardent fans, with a home tastefully full of his art and furnishings. She let him completely remodel her kitchen when he was quite young, and the cabinetry he designed and built is a thing of functional beauty.
Later, when McCourt moved to Placer County, he continued to work with his father when he wasn’t roaming the countryside with friends, enjoying the kind of partially feral childhood that is a cultural relic in these days of sedentary electronic usage, organized sports, and hyper-protective parenting.
Interestingly, he and his friends used to poke around the abandoned fruit packing sheds that are today a busy hub of galleries and artistic shops in downtown Loomis. It is here, in the High Hand ‘sheds’, that McCourt will be opening his own gallery on Friday.
McCourt attended Del Oro High School just up the road from the fruit sheds, where he took his one and only art class with teacher John Bowler.
After graduation, McCourt tried a brief stint at Butte Community College in Chico, but he was restless.
“I hated college,” he says. “The only course I liked was Badminton.”
Instead he studied for and passed the test to become a general contractor. He started a contracting business with brother Quincy McCourt, and he held out for three years before giving in full time to his artistic destiny in 2009.
From the beginning, McCourt’s work was a hit, selling out at the Flower Farm, High Hand, and Beatnik Studios in Sacramento as fast as he could produce it.
After two years, he realized he was making a living as an artist. “But the goal was never the money,” he says. “The goal was to get the art to the people.”
Last year, his eyes craving new vistas to paint, he packed up his paints, his welder, brushes, jewelry making tools and wood-working equipment, and hit the road, travelling cross-country for ten months, working every leg of the way.
“That was my starving artist phase,” he says. “I sold my car, sold tools I could live without, made arrangements for my horse, did two garage sales, and bought a truck and fifth wheel trailer.”
Supporting himself on the road was hard, he said. He sold his work at farmers’ markets, flea markets and other local venues.
He painted up a storm, made jewelry, and took some time to ‘watch the whales migrate’.
He came home with a lot of work completed, and a renewed energy to produce more.
You can see some of it Friday, April 4th at the ‘soft opening’ of his gallery at High Hand from noon to 5 p.m. The official opening is May 3rd. While you are at High Hand take advantage of the wine tasting there, pop into the gourmet olive oil shop, visit the other galleries and the sprawling nursery. You can eat at the restaurant, which is located in a massive conservatory on the nursery grounds. But whatever you do, go and see McCourt’s work.
For those of you not local enough to take advantage of his new venue personally, check out his Facebook Page. If you see something you like, get in touch with him that way. Enjoy. Tell your friends. Bring his art home. He wants you to. He’ll make more.
5 thoughts on “A Portrait of the Artist as a Generous Man”
I have admired Kermit’s work for years and love that every piece captures his spirit. Thank you for highlighting a true artistic talent!
It was a privilege, Jen. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.
what an inspiring story, Kermit is one of a kind, a raw gem in his own right. So happy for the new endeavor! He will be able to bless more people with his love of art, within his own space he can call home. Perfect.
Thanks so much for reading, Sherri, and for taking the time to comment. I’ve never met anyone like Kermit. I wish there were more like him in this world. It would be a lovelier place.
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