Artists share works of religious devotion in new exhibit at the BYU museum of art


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PROVO — Religious devotion looks different for everyone, and yet some at Brigham Young University have found common themes throughout centuries of art.

The BYU Museum of Art combines both historical and contemporary interpretations of religion and the soul in its new exhibit.

The theme "Of Souls and Sacraments" shows patterns of devotions throughout time.

Ashlee Whitaker, the curator at the museum, said the exhibit features more than 40 pieces of art, some coming from the early 14th century.

"We looked around for contemporary artists who are doing these types of religious themes in a way that shows the continuity of these ideas over centuries, but also how there are endless ways to revisit them with fresh and new expressions," Whitaker explains.

The exhibit is split into five separate sections with different representations of sacraments or symbols of religious devotion: the cross, Mary, the mother of Christ, portrayals of authority, the idea of discipleship, and the body of Christ.

"Different denominations might focus on themes more than others," Whitaker said. "This was a chance to bring those together and to hopefully build theological bridges."

Paige Anderson's atonement triptych shows the bridge between painting an event and portraying the expression of it.

Anderson created an altarpiece–three panels depicting the suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

"He suffered for all of us – all of our pains and all these experiences – so in my representation of this, there has to be some sort of individuality, specificity, and these little emotions or feelings or experiences that he experienced."

Patterns, tiny shapes stacked up depict the experience, but Anderson hopes it can also capture the daily experiences of those who observe her art.

"I want them to have introspective experiences, and I want them to reflect on their daily sacraments or their daily devotions," said Anderson.

Painting and carving shapes, Anderson portrays daily devotions in patterns repeatedly painted and sanded down.

"You see a lot of depictions of something like prayer, but there's nothing that tells you visually what it feels like to say 10,000 prayers, and to feel like there's nothing happening," said Anderson. "What I do is try to get you a glimpse into how prayer is like–it's a pattern, and it's daily engagement."

For Kirk Richards, his portrayal of daily devotion involves sculpting and painting religious scenes.

Richards used a shipping crate to paint Christ on the cross, the words "Fragile" still imprinted on the side.

"I thought about the crate and the frame as being the body, the outer housing of the Spirit," said Richards.

Painted flowers on the sides are Richards' offering, a way he participates in memorializing Christ and Christianity.

"I hope that the physical work of art is also a catalyst to transcend thought into larger thoughts, things that transform and renew the soul," said Richards.

In the past 25 years, Richards has created more than 2,000 paintings. The common thread between them all is Richards' religious seeking.

"I'm seeking God, I'm seeking peace, I'm seeking intercession," said Richards. "We're all trying to make this place a better place for our families, for our communities."

Art from Richards and Anderson is on display at the new exhibit. "Of Souls and Sacraments," is open and free for anyone until July 2024.

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Erin Cox
Erin Cox is an Emmy sward-winning special projects reporter for KSL-TV.

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