Mormon Artists Group is pleased

to announce the publication of


Church Drawings


by Casey Jex Smith


Casey Jex Smith is an artist. On Sundays he goes to church. Being one of thirteen million Mormons and one of its many visual artists, those facts are, by themselves, unremarkable. But here is a difference: he takes with him to church a sketchbook.


After Mormon Artists Group saw Smith’s exquisite drawings, we approached him about a project. We asked the artist to take his sketchbook with him for a year of Sunday meetings. Ultimately, there came to be 56 works in Church Drawings from 2007-08, with some additional, selected sketches going back to 2005.


For anyone who has spent time in an LDS church building, elements of these drawings will feel like old friends: there are images of a podium, a folding metal chair, an organ, a piano, a leather-bound set of scriptures, light fixtures, door handles, fire extinguishers, architectural beams and braces.


There are people at church. A little girl sits on a lap, a young man is seen from behind. There is a hand, a ponytail, textiles, and other visual fragments.


There are pictures of pictures too. Smith hones in on illustrations that are used at church to teach gospel lessons: a trail of Pioneer wagons, LDS temples, the church founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., characters from the scriptures, angels, mountains, animals, and Jesus.


 


How to describe the drawings? If these compositions are like music, then they most resemble jazz, nimble and improvisational. One of the drawings may start with something as mundane as a wooden podium rendered (above) with exquisite accuracy, down to the finest grain lines of the wood veneer, but then it grows impatient, abandons the scheme with mere outlines and jumps into new terrain, a forest of pine trees with foreboding clouds above them.


Next, thick, straight lines transform into open, geometric shapes like some crazy, unfoldings of pure imagination (or are they just doodles?). And then comes such minute draftsmanship in a clump of forms that it is dizzying to read it all, let alone to imagine how a pen and a hand could create it. Suddenly, the line trails away, the drawing stops, and we’re on to the next composition.


Viewing the drawings as a group gives off a by-product of intimacy. The recurring, imaginative forms that initially seemed idiosyncratic slowly reveal themselves as proxies for larger ideas. The cascading ribbon of lines, for example, that read as a decorative flow of water or simply as rippling motion, come to be equated in the drawings with a dynamic energy, like some celestial, governing force. The geometric shapes that are complex and almost unknowable, upon repeated visits by the artist, give a sense of something overarching, even god-like.


This is the kind of access to imagination that is rare in recent art, with its take-it-or-leave-it posturing. Any sketchbook shows how a method, an approach of communication, is developed over time, and this collection has the added curiosity of placing religion into the dialogue of contemporary American art. Using a church setting as a starting place (although Smith takes plenty of daydreaming trips to the world outside) is this Mormon artist’s way of welcoming believers and nonbelievers alike to explore the landscape of his congregation and culture.


THE ARTIST


Since 2006, Casey Jex Smith’s work has been exhibited in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin, Oakland, and Richmond. In 2008, his work was included in a group show at The Drawing Center in New York City, the country’s premiere exhibition space for contemporary works on paper.


This year, Smith has had exhibitions in galleries that represent him in New York, Paris, and Oakland. His work is included in the current show, “The Exquisite Line,” at Boston University. It is his third museum exhibition.


He received his B.F.A. and M.F.A. degrees in Painting from BYU (2003) and San Francisco Art Institute (2005), respectively.


He and his wife Amanda, who is also a fine artist, reside in the Bay Area of California.




THE VOLUME


Church Drawings consists of 120 unnumbered pages with 56 drawings, printed single-sided, one per page, plus introductory text pages. The paper is Arches MBM from France. The text pages were printed by letterpress at The Center for Book Arts, New York City, and the drawings were printed on a high-resolution Epson UltraChrome inkjet printer.


The volume is bound by hand and covered with robin’s egg blue-colored pig suede in a limp binding with overlapping flap cover and with a suede tie closure. It measures 6" x 8" x .75" (replicating the original dimensions of the artist’s Swathmore sketchbook).


Church Drawings is published in an edition limited to 65 copies for sale. The volume is signed and numbered by the artist.


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Church Drawings