There is something magical about a newly stretched canvas for local artist J. Kirk Richards.
Richards grew up in Provo. His parents are skilled musicians who insisted that their eight children each learn to play the piano and one other instrument. Richards chose the French horn as his second instrument and took private lessons. But as a child, he liked to draw monsters and to illustrate his school assignments. So, when he was in junior high, he begged his parents to let him take art lessons instead.
Richards drew his first sketch of Jesus when he was 15 years old. His interest in religious art expanded as he studied the works of 19th century Danish painter Carl Bloch as well as the late artist and former BYU art professor James Christensen.
Richards graduated from Provo High School in 1994 and served as a missionary for his church in Rome, Italy. Before moving to Italy, Richards hadn’t experienced much beyond the western United States, and his only flying experience was a 45-minute flight to Las Vegas. However, within minutes of landing at the Rome airport, he was in a car driving around the Colosseum and seeing Michelangelo’s marble sculpture of Moses before he had even gone to his new home. “To see Michelangelo’s and Caravaggio’s work in person was amazing,” says Richards.
“I immersed myself in Rome. It is such a center for history and art. My experience there made me think bigger. It created in me a desire to push myself to make things with a larger scope.” He adds, “I realized that the Italian Renaissance artists that I admired were just people, and that opened possibilities to me. If they could do it, why couldn’t I?”
Richards pushes himself to be a better artist. He is always learning and advancing his skills. He paints new pieces and recently completed a giant sculpture of angel wings and a statue of Jesus. More recently, he has been experimenting with fabric and sewing.
While he has tried different mediums over the years, he says there are several themes he keeps coming back to: healing, the divine feminine, and community. “They express my hope in humanity and our human experience and divinity and the possibility of God’s help in our lives,” he says.
Richard loves to paint Christ healing others. “When I think of new beginnings, I can’t help think of what Jesus was talking about when he said you need to be reborn. You die spiritually and then you need to be reborn. I think that applies to our everyday lived experience. It is not only in religious rites that this happens, but also in us, in our human lives. We live, parts of us die, and we are reborn new people. We aren’t the same people we were a month ago, especially not the same people we were 10 years ago,” he says. “Hopefully we can find it in ourselves to be reborn and rise again even though life is hard and drags us down. Renewed hope is always a possibility.”
One of Richards’s most well-known religious pieces is called Every Knee Shall Bow. It depicts a sea of kneeling people with Jesus standing in their midst. Observers say the people in the painting look like sheep, but when a person continues to look, they can see they are human figures.
The next theme Richards likes to display in art is of the divine feminine because he sees divinity in the women around him. He has been married to his wife, Amy, for over 20 years, and they have four children— two boys and two girls. He is currently sewing a dress for his wife because he wants her to feel beautiful. He has also helped his daughters sew a shirt and a purse. “I believe in gender equality, and the world hasn’t always seen women as equals. We still have lots of room for improvement,” he says.
He believes his piece Breath of Life represents this well since it depicts God as both male and female and participating in the act of creation. “In Genesis, it says God created both male and female,” Richards explains.
The final theme Richards keeps coming back to is community. One of his paintings is called Jesus Said Love Everyone or Rainbow Jesus, as some call it. The piece depicts Christ in a robe with all the colors of the rainbow. In each color are small figures of people within that rainbow.
He also completed a piece recently called We have a Rainbow House. It depicts a family embracing inside a house painted with rainbow colors. “It captures the love and solidarity of a family that has diversity within the family,” says Richards. “There are many families with LBGTQ+ kids who have responded to this particular piece because they think it represents them. In a larger sense, I think it represents our community. Together, as a com-munity, we also have a “rainbow house” because so many members of our community are coming from this situation.”
Another one of Richards’s community pieces is featured on the wall in the front room at the Encircle House in Provo. It is even called Encircle. It depicts a family gathered around a dinner table, embracing and encouraging a specific child.
“When Stephenie Larsen created that house, she wanted it to be a place where kids could come and make it feel like they are coming home.
She wanted kids to feel like they were being embraced, if not by their own family then by a family community,” says Richards. “I tried to incorporate some of the colors from the front windows of the house into the painting. It has been an honor for me to have that piece in the front room at Encircle.”
Richards also created a piece for the Salt Lake Encircle House called Sit with Us. It has a lot of chairs, each with different colors of various LGBTQ+ flags in them.
He volunteers to teach classes to the students at Encircle. “It has been an honor to do it and to interact with these kids and see their amazing creativity, their spark for life,” he says.
Richards opened an art academy and gallery in Provo last spring. He loves teaching classes to children and adult students to help them “scale up” into art careers. Simultaneously, with this art gallery, he’s been doing new shows that create new opportunities for artists to display and sell their works in Provo.
Visit jkirkrichards.com to view more of his work.
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