I feel very blessed to say that over the past few months I have been getting to know Franklin artist and horticulturalist, Jerry Quinlisk. We’ve been acquaintances for years, but we’ve never really connected. Now that I know his story, I’ve been thinking, “Wow, how did I miss this?” He definitely has an amazing story to tell and so much of it is expressed through his art.
Jerry invited me to his historic Franklin home to talk art and show displays of his work. The home has become a gallery, including a dining room turned studio. His work is so colorful that the walls really come to life and made me want to know what inspired all of them. I had no idea the depth of his story and how invested I would become in it.
After suffering a back injury 19 years ago, Jerry could no longer partake in his favorite pastime of playing golf. Ten years prior, someone told him that he was not a landscaper, he was an artist. Inspired by the memory of this statement and needing a new hobby, he decided to take some art classes at the Watkins Institute in Nashville to learn how to draw. He then took lessons from the legendary Bunn Gray who taught him to apply paint. Jerry says he doesn’t draw classically. He calls it “expressive art”. It is very personal and comes from within. There is always a part of each piece that is a self-portrait. He approaches art as if it is a puzzle on the surface, and the work itself is trying to solve the puzzle. In the end, it looks different than what was in his mind at the start. The most enjoyable part of creating is the place that he goes in his mind, his “happy spot”. It gives him peace and tranquility. Which he definitely deserves…
Jerry was very open with me about his past and gave me permission to share it. He has struggled with alcohol and substance abuse and said he had no idea at the time how bad he felt. A diagnosis of liver cancer changed his life. As I sat in his home, we talked of how serious his condition was and how much he needed a new liver. With tears in my eyes I tried to stay on task and asked him how all this affected his art. He said that his battle with cancer and being clean have changed the art. It’s more introspective. Before, it had been more lighthearted. In the last year, he starting working in pastels, which suits his temperament better since he doesn’t have to mix the paint. It’s a more rapid process, and he did one a day for a while.
The afternoon spent with Jerry was at the beginning of August, by the end of August, I am so happy to say that Jerry received a new liver. He is cancer free. He is doing well and continuing to express himself through his art. Before our meeting, Jerry drew a portrait of me. Since he says there is always a part of himself in each piece, I hope he sees some of himself in me. It would be quite an honor.