Jerry Kirk didn't grow up with the common boyhood aspiration of being a firefighter: He planned to become an artist.
In fact, "I've never wanted to be anything else," he said.
Kirk says his mother noticed his penchant for art early. "She claims I was drawing before I could talk," said Kirk.
Kirk's professional life began with a serendipitous start. His first job after high school was working at a small Virginia newspaper, The Falls Church Globe, distributing copies for carriers to deliver to customers, when an editor happened upon doodles he'd left behind in an office.
The paper had lost its editorial cartoonist and was in the market for a new one. Kirk got the job.
Except for a stint in the U.S. Air Force, Kirk hasn't strayed far from art.
And his time in the service proved useful in his art career in ways he didn't expect.
"The experience itself lent itself to my creativity after I got out," he said.
Despite other artistic success, Kirk, 51, says he didn't begin painting until he was 30.
Kirk is an expressionist painter, using color, composition and other elements "to make viewers feel a certain way," he says. "It's almost like the way a psychologist would approach art."
As an example, the late Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, perhaps most famous for his work "The Scream," would be considered an expressionist. "He's an idol of mine," said Kirk.
Although he can't predict how viewers will interpret his paintings, Kirk said, he wants people to feel something when they look at them.
"I'm an observer. I've got big opinions," he said.
"Charlotte's been great to me as far as my career goes," said Kirk, who works from a home studio in the Olde Providence neighborhood. His last corporate job was serving as art director for Cato, the women's clothing retailer, before he left to become a fine art painter and freelance graphic designer.
Kirk's wife, Lisa, is an officer in the N.C. Air National Guard. A very special art collector is daughter Elysia, 9, for whom Kirk created 12 paintings on wood, some of which Elysia has hung around the house.
Kirk self-published a children's book, "Elly's Perfect Day," incorporating paintings as illustrations and writing accompanying rhymes.
He recently has been concentrating on a new project, and he's represented locally by Charlotte Fine Art Gallery in Carmel Village. Owner Joni Purk said she likes his depictions of local scenes, including Freedom Park, Queens Road West and Trade and Tryon.
Kirk's been busy this fall, because when Purk saw two of his landscapes and street scenes and suggested naming him the November featured artist, it meant doing eight additional paintings between August and October, for a total of 10. .
Kirk's exhibition was called "Beneath the Canopy of Trees: North Carolina."
Purk says visitor response to the paintings has been positive.
"Mostly the reaction is they love his shadows and strong contrast, is usually what I hear," she said.