At the Owensboro National Guard Armory on Feb. 18, Aaron Kizer stood on stage, bent down to dip his brushes in paint, then straightened up, drew his brushes a few times lightly across his pants, and deftly began to weave precise strokes upon the canvas. Incredibly, Kizer painted the soon-to-be portrait upside-down to enhance suspense. I had no idea it was John F. Kennedy until just five minutes later when Kizer flipped it over to vigorous applause. It was a perfect likeness.
A master of the niche art of speed painting, Kizer remains modest. “After a show, people tell me I’m talented or gifted, but I don’t believe that at all,” he says. “I’m just determined.” Introduced to the craft while watching Denny Dent, Kizer, an Owensboro native and a graphic designer by trade, undertook the task of repetition. He painted portraits of Albert Einstein and Jimi Hendrix over and over until they became methodical shapes and precise lines. “Once it becomes a repetitive thing, you get a feel for what goes where,” he says. “It’s like writing. Once you learn to write your name, you know it forever.”
Shortly after he began speed painting, his father was diagnosed with cancer, and Kizer started to sell his paintings to raise money for treatments. At the same time, the shows he participated in garnered a rising interest in his portraits, which now sell for $2,000 to $5,000. Approximately 80 percent of his shows benefit charities.
Kizer’s approach to art reflects his humble beginnings. To him, the paintings aren’t as significant as what they represent. His favorite painting is of his father, who recently lost his battle with cancer. Beyond that particular piece, it’s not about the paintings. “I can paint anybody,” he says. “I’d rather my artwork not be on canvas. When I die, I’d rather my life be the artwork.”
Life and its brevity drive Kizer to do what he does. He finds inspiration in everyday people, especially those who fight sickness and cancer. “I know we’ll die, and that’s what pushes me to paint,” he says. “If you know you’ll die, and you put that in front of yourself every day, you’ll have a timeline. And when you have a timeline, you get things done.”