Discovering art through adversity

Samples of Bert Kirchner’s vibrant artwork, a talent he first discovered after hitting his head during a fall. (Photos provided by Bert Kirchner)
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By Kadeem Joseph

For many, becoming an artist takes years of honing their craft and fine-tuning their artistic vision and voice, but for this artist, he literally “fell” into his artistry.

Film producer Bert Kirchner never realised he was skilled with the brush until he fell ill, passed out in late February of this year, and hit his head on the hard concrete. But nothing could have prepared him for the new world that greeted him when he regained consciousness.

“I saw things different; I felt different … up to now, I can’t really explain it properly,” he said. “When I see things now, I see it in an artistic way; is it something that I can paint? I am recognising details.”

As the country went into lockdown in March, Kirchner described a yearning to express himself with no idea through which medium he would have found some relief.

He said, however, it was only after finding an old paint set belonging to his daughter that he realised that painting was his new passion.

To date, Kirchner has produced 36 pieces of artwork ranging in sizes and subjects, from stunning portraits, vibrant landscapes, and breath-taking aquatic life.

As expected, family and friends were astonished by this new-found talent, especially since the producer, based on his recollection, had never held a paint brush before.

“Of course, everyone was curious … ‘how did that happen?’”

After researching, Kirchner believes he is experiencing the phenomenon known as savant syndrome.

This syndrome is understood to be a rare condition in which people with serious mental handicaps, including autistic disorder, have some area of genius which is in clear contrast to their overall disabilities.

The syndrome normally takes two forms. An individual may have the congenital version of the astonishing condition as was the case with Kim Peek who is known as a “megasavant” due to his exceptional memory. Peek served as inspiration for the movie Rain Man.

The condition can also be acquired after a traumatic brain injury. In this instance, dormant savant skills emerge at a notably remarkable level in an individual who had no previous neurological deficits and no extraordinary expression of the kill before the injury.

While many in the scientific community may relish the opportunity to probe this occurrence further, for Kirchner, he is content with simply having a clean bill of health and his new lease on life.

When Observer asked if he would pursue the matter medically, he said unequivocally: “I will just pursue painting.”

The film producer said when he initially started to post his artwork, while some people celebrated his work and story, other questioned it.

“While a lot of people said, ‘oh wonderful, fantastic’, a lot of people started to question it and I had to defend it in a way that all of a sudden I am doing these incredible paintings,” he added.

Kirchner said upon completion, some of his pieces are so detailed that they “surprise” him.

He describes the process of painting as all-encompassing experience which occupies his attention for three to four days at a time and even more depending on the size of the piece.

To date, the producer turned artist has already had one exhibition and has sold multiple works of art, the proceeds of which have gone into the creation of an art studio, much to the joy of his wife who had grown frustrated by him painting in their home.

So far, acrylic based paints have been his medium of choice for his captivating work, and he doesn’t have a preferred subject to paint.

“I figured out that I cannot be on just one subject, I figured out that I want to do everything,” he said.

 His work has already caught the eye of established artist Mark Brown, who Kirchner had invited to get another opinion on his work.

Brown told Observer that he “is immensely proud of Bert, given the unique circumstances under which he has been able to create this series of work, and given that the pandemic and lockdowns worldwide have had such a negative effect on the psyche of many. He has, under these adverse conditions, worked consistently for months and exhibited amazing craftsmanship”.

The notable artist said Kirchner’s story is an “inspirational one”.

These days, the film producer has been occupied with efforts to complete his studio, which had been stalled by recent rains, but he his hoping that he will complete the work soon so he can return to painting.

Topping his list of things to paint when he resumes painting are clipper ships which are serving as a major source of inspiration for him presently.

He is eager to return his new-found passion which, he said, makes him feel “possessed” as he brings these creations to life.

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