Artist Profile: Andrew Kusmin
Artist Profile: Andrew Kusmin
It was only a couple of years after Andrew Kusmin opened his first dental practice that he fell back into his first love; painting. “I was a good boy,” he says, explaining why he had gone to dental school. “I was expected to be able to support a family.” But he had been painting and drawing since he was in grade school, and he couldn’t shake the artistic urge. So he enrolled in a watercolor course and “knew at the end that I was never stopping,” he says.
“My dental practice was in a barn on the property where I lived,” Kusmin relates. “I made a studio in the loft.” He still worked at dentistry full time, raising two children with his wife, but was “painting night after night, every minute I wasn’t being a dentist,” he explains. By the time he put the latch on the door of his dental office for the last time after 28 years, he already had been having solo shows as a watercolorist and selling his works.
Today, with his own gallery in Plymouth, he has been a full-time artist for almost as many years as he was a full-time dentist. Accolades include acceptance into such organizations as the American Watercolor Society and Audubon Artists and too many exhibitions and awards to list. One of the two people he credits for his success is his mentor, watercolorist Leo Smith. “Leo didn’t teach me anything about painting per se, except ‘Use more color,’” Kusmin says. “But I didn’t have confidence.” That’s where Leo filled in. “I know you can do this,” he would tell his protege. “He changed my whole life,” Kusmin remarks.
Not many of Kusmin’s paintings have people in them. But his works, steeped in realism and so masterfully textured that in looking at them you feel you are touching objects with your hands, very often impart a sense that someone is about to enter the scene, or perhaps has just left. There’s a table set for a dinner party with empty chairs around it, a path to an old but tidy Wyeth-like farmhouse, a bicycle on the deck of a tenant house. “I’ve never finished a painting that is of any significance to me that doesn’t talk about the people who were either present at one point or about to arrive,” Kusmin says.
Sometimes someone is present just by the emotion a painting evokes. He explains, “I look at a buoy and see gnarled hands. I see the peeling paint, the cracks in the wood. A buoy otherwise has no interest to me.”
Kusmin stopped being able to finish his paintings when his twin sister, Anne, the other great influence in his artistic life, was dying of cancer. They had entered art contests together as kids, and he had always been able to rely on her for an honest critique. “When I thought a piece was finished,” he says, “I’d scoot over and say, ‘What do you think?’ She couldn’t paint. But she could say, ‘Something’s wrong here. Go re-think that part.’ As a graphic designer [educated at Rhode Island School of Design], she had a sense of space, composition.”
By the time Anne passed in July of 2022, Kusmin had been starting paintings but unable to take them all the way through. “I was struggling,” he says. But by the end of the year, he explains, “I came out of that by realizing that every single thing she ever told me, I’ve got. I knew her well enough that I knew what her opinion was going to be.” She had, he says, prepared him for life without her.
With that closure, he was able to close on his works, so to speak. Kusmin’s refreshed gallery space reopens in the summer of 2023.