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PROVO — J. Kirk Richards has been interested in art for as long as he can remember.
The intrigue was sparked by a compulsion to create with his hands, Richards said. He entered the Parent Teacher Association Reflections contest in elementary school, took art lessons at 14 and eventually studied art in college.
Richards has been inspired by art created in a wide variety of time periods and movements, like prehistoric art and postmodernism.
"I wanted to make sacred art that acknowledged and was inspired by the aesthetic of all of these art periods," Richards said.
Richards largely creates art with Judeo-Christian themes; some of it depicting scripture stories from the New Testament.
"Others of my works are more symbolic in nature, often depicting themes of divine intervention, community, healing, strength and light," he said.
Spiritual principles, music, the human body and architecture are just a few of the things that inspire Richards. The artist enjoys creating oil paintings, but also uses acrylic, paper and gold leaf. In addition to his paintings, he illustrates books and sculpts.
"I create art that is most interesting to me personally," Richards said of creating religious art. "It takes a lot of energy to make a painting or sculpture, and so I try to make images that excite me through to completion. These are the images I feel called to make. These are the images I'm best at: issues that are constantly on my mind."
After studying art in high school, Richards obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Brigham Young University and apprenticed with artist Patrick Devonas in New Jersey. The Utah artist has been trained in representational modernism with a side of classicism.
Within his art, Richards utilizes wings and halos to symbolize heavenly power and divine intervention and rocks to symbolize one's burdens.
Richards said he loves working with his hands and loves imagining he has something in common with great artists who have inspired people for centuries. He thinks the general public could use more great religious art.
"I think great art embraces the poetry, mystery and passion of the human experience," Richards said. "Currently, secular art seems to dominate in this arena. I think excellent religious art reminds us where excellence and beauty come from, which is a reminder we increasingly need."
His painting of Jesus Christ healing at a leper's cave is inside the lobby of the Church Office Building, and his depictions of Christ can be found on the first and third floors of the Museum of Church History and Art.