Jackie Kirk, a Fairfax artist and teacher who helped give a face to the AIDS epidemic, has died. She was 91 years old.
Ms. Kirk, best known for “The Face of AIDS,” a 50-piece portrait series, used her words, character and vision to try to humanize an epidemic that was not understood by the vast majority of people. in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, said daughter Bobbi Wilson.
A commemorative exhibition of his works will open with a Celebration of Life at 3 p.m. on August 21 at the San Geronimo Valley Community Center, 6350 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Geronimo.
âShe did 50 portraits for 25 AIDS patients,â Wilson said of her mother. âThey were 3 feet by 4 feet each. So they’re fat. After each portrait, she paints herself. It was between ’78’ and ’90. At that time, no one knew if AIDS was contagious, so she risked her life by returning to the homes. But she was really making a political statement.
The series, which featured acrylic portraits of patients, the self-portrait of Ms. Kirk and a short story, was exhibited at the Legion of Honor in 1991. It depicts people who have contracted AIDS in a way that had never been done before, said Barbara Swift. Brauer, editor and longtime friend of Ms. Kirk.
Brauer said she met Ms. Kirk in 1985 and helped her with basic word processing for Ms. Kirk’s art class. They became close friends who shared works of art, writings and collaborated on “The Face of AIDS” series, books and many other works.
âOne night she said to me, ‘I’m going to paint AIDS,’â Brauer said. âShe told me that she had come into contact with people with AIDS. His first portrait was of a man named William. His political and social sensibility corresponded in a way to his art. She wanted to do something big, something meaningful and the result was that she devoted herself to this very difficult project.
Wilson said her mother’s art was also on display at the Duke University Museum of Art, the Butler Institute of American Art, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, as well as in many venues in California.
Ms. Kirk never used a photo to paint a portrait. It was all done in person, Brauer said. However, in a short documentary âWitness: The Artist’s Vision of AIDS,â produced in 1996 by Judith Selby, Ms. Kirk admitted that she was afraid to look people in the eye.
But she overcame that fear, Wilson said.
âThere is always a moment when I portray someone else, when I look into my eyes I see love,â Ms.Kirk said in the documentary.
âI think the world is starting to lose the sense of community and love for one another. And that’s my big global message. I feel like I learned this and it’s in me forever.
Mrs. Kirk, born in Oakland on July 28, 1929, moved to Minnesota with her family at the age of 11. She attended Washburn High School in the 1940s before studying fine arts at the University of Minnesota. She didn’t graduate and started an interior design business with her first husband, Robert Osterhaus, instead. She returned to California in the 1950s.
She had two children with Osterhaus and later remarried Neal Kirk. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Teaching Diploma from Sonoma State University while living in San Rafael.
She then taught at various public and private schools such as College of Marin, UC Berkeley Extension Campus in Santa Cruz and Palo Alto, Dominican University of California, Vacaville Alternative Continuation School, San Quentin’s Death Row, and offered private lessons and retreats in Tahiti and Paris.
Wilson said that although she was a distinguished artist, she cared most about teaching and helping others overcome their fears.
âShe had an artistic mind,â Wilson said. âIt pushed her to overcome her fear because she was very afraid as a young woman. She had to go beyond society by trying to make her a perfect little housewife and mother in order to make artâ¦ the program she had for her students required them to overcome this fear and listen to the spirit of art.
During a one-day lecture in 1989 at the UC Santa Cruz Extension Campus in Palo Alto, she expressed this motivation for her students.
âI hope to alert you to your own artistic spirit so that you recognize it,â she wrote. âThink for a minute if you know how your mind communicates to you and what it has to say. Do you listen to him? Let me tell you, he usually whispers, because the truth doesn’t have to shout.
Her longtime friend, apprentice and fellow artist Judith Selby said Ms Kirk was an inspiration to her and to so many in Marin and beyond.
âI was also working on a portrait of a friend of mine who died of AIDS,â said Selby. âIt was this shared commitment to face a situation that was very painful for us at that time. It was a domino effect and there was no cure.
Ms Kirk continued to create art until her death on May 22, Selby said.
âShe created the most colorful and vibrant multimedia piece in this bouquet of flowers,â said Selby. âIt was a few days before she passed away, but that’s what she was.â¦ She meant a lot to me and a lot to a lot of people.
Predeceased by her third husband, artist Philip Rosenfeld, who died in 2012, Ms. Kirk is survived by her daughter, Bobbi Wilson, and son, Tom Kirk, and granddaughters Sophia Kirk, Amanda Lincoln and Winona Wagner.