Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Artist inspired by 'power and beauty' depicts LDS scripture, spiritual works

Christ Among the Lepers by J Kirk Richards

(by Celeste Tholen ksl.com 2-29-16)

Using rich earth tones and deliberate, gritty brushstrokes and sculpting, J. Kirk Richards shapes his mediums into deeply religious pieces of art.

A gamut of artistic periods influence Richards; he draws inspiration from prehistoric art, as well as refined renaissance and baroque art, French naturalists and symbolists, as well as modernists, and religious artists like Carl Bloch and Minerva Teichert. Richards combines these influences into his unique style that feels all at once old and new, thanks to familiar color combinations and modern portraiture.  In recent years, Richards' work has been recognized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through its International Art Competition, and he has collaborated with Deseret Book to publish an illustrated version of the Christ child's birth in "The Nativity." His work appears as the cover art for Jeffrey R. Holland's book "Broken Things to Mend," and the LDS Church has printed his work in various magazines.

Currently, his work hangs in the west lobby of the Church Office Building and a grouping of nearly 150 paintings hangs at the church's museum of history and art.

His exhibit "Beholding Salvation: The Life of Christ in Word and Image" was prominently shown at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art, and he also contributed to the PBS Frontline documentary "The Mormons: An American Experience."  But, he said, he has always created art for himself. He uses oil paint mostly, though he explores acrylic and mixed textural media, and in recent years, he has been sculpting clays and plaster. "It's important to me to resist being backed into a stylistic corner," Richards said. "I didn't paint for the LDS Church, for example, in my early career. I painted for myself and my friends. Fortunately, those friends have grown in number over the years and allowed me to continue to develop my own visual language. And it's nice that the church has deemed some of my work useable too."

Richards grew up in a creative home in Provo, where his parents enrolled him in music lessons for the piano and French horn at BYU. The fourth of eight children, Richards learned early to create. Inspired by the work he saw at the BYU fine arts building where his music lessons were, he switched his focus to visual arts as a teen.

"Music taught me to put feelings into my work," he said. "It taught me about phrasing, about texture, about emphasis, about variety — there are many principles that cross over from audio to visual." His mission for the church to Rome, Italy, gave him a chance to observe great religious art. Later, he graduated from BYU with a BA in visual studio arts and he apprenticed with an artist in Princeton, New Jersey.  He has since dedicated himself to his art. His work mostly explores Mormon scripture and Jesus Christ.  "I'm inspired by poetic phrases in the scriptures, by the power and beauty of the human figure, by devotional objects and architecture, by the beauty of the natural world," he said.

"I return to overtly spiritual themes again and again because I care about them. I care about community, service, healing, helping, reaching for individual potential. I love the poetry and romanticism of certain scriptural ideas and doctrines. Religious imagery ties me into a tradition of art making that's thousands of years old. Also, creating artwork helps me work out my own inner conflicts in constructive ways. I try to make work I would want to hang in my own home."

Richards lives in Woodland Hills with his wife Amy and their children. His wife is also a skilled artist, who focuses on small rural paintings.  "Amy inspires me in many ways. She is a hard worker and is as committed to our success as I am," he said. "We have similar, but of course not identical aesthetic tastes."

Richards said it is important to them that their children be creative in whatever way they choose. Their children play instruments, make art, explore film and pursue other creative outlets.

Richards actively shares his creative life online, utilizing Instagram to document it, show the progress of his pieces, and explain techniques or thoughts on processes.  "Technology has democratized artwork in many ways. It's easier than ever for an artist to show their work to the world," he said.

In addition to locations mentioned above, his artwork can be seen at Illume Gallery in Salt Lake City, at Writ & Vision in Provo, at Authentique Gallery in St. George, and at Foursquare Art in Mesa, Arizona. Prints of his art and books can be found at Deseret Book, the BYU Store, and other local galleries. In September, he will have a solo exhibit at BYU-Idaho's Spori Gallery.



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