Although contemporary art and organized religion seem to go together like oil and water, many young artists are striving to create common ground between the two.
Casey Jex Smith, Utah native and MFA graduate from the San Francisco Art Institute, is one such artist. In addition to being an imaginative illustrator, Smith is a practicing Mormon and doesn’t shy away from letting piousness seep into his work. His paintings and drawings are the unlikely fusion of fantasy and faith.
Buck O’Brian of the Oakland Contemporary Art Examiner observed, “If M.C. Escher were a teenager that lived in his parents’ basement and played Xbox and Dungeons & Dragons all day but still went to church on Sundays, I think we’d have Casey.”
This Pringles-stained piety adds a compelling hook to all of his work.
Smith’s creations are minimal but carefully crafted. Large sections of white space often surround meticulous pen and ink drawings and small splashes of color. Often, Smith portrays steeples, temple facades and Mormon Church leaders alongside wizards, wands, ogres and large geometric line drawings.
This unique juxtaposition, often feeling like a daydream in church or a revelation while playing videogames, is Smith’s attempt at portraying mankind’s connection to heaven. His work underscores the finiteness and the variability of man in comparison to the infiniteness and the invariability of Deity.
“I am interested in how God communicates with man through celestial manifestations such as visions, visitations, impressions and dreams,” Smith said. “I visibly represent these manifestations—making faith visible and connected to the physical world.”
By injecting his work with theological themes, Smith hopes to help bridge the gap between art and religion.
A new exhibit called “Transformed by Light: Exploring Personal Enlightenment” will feature Smith’s work alongside five other artists. It will be on display at the B.F. Larson Gallery of the Harris Fine Arts Center on BYU’s Campus. Admission is free. Go see it.