Oshkosh artist says he draws religious art to ‘bring others to Christ’

By Steve Wideman | For The Compass | April 16, 2014

OSHKOSH — Cloistered among cardboard boxes and unused household items, with a single light bulb for illumination, Brian Keliher routinely escaped to his basement to use sticks of graphite and pieces of charcoal to work through life’s challenges and joys.

Oshkosh artist Brian L. Keliher works on his latest drawing, a depiction of Christ embracing and offering comfort and forgiveness to a figure representing all people who choose to come to him. (Steve Wideman | For The Compass)
Oshkosh artist Brian L. Keliher works on his latest drawing, a depiction of Christ embracing and offering comfort and forgiveness to a figure representing all people who choose to come to him. (Steve Wideman | For The Compass)

For a dozen years, Keliher, nearly unbeknownst to himself, built a solid portfolio of drawings, all religious in nature and all black and white, that filled a growing stack of sketchbooks stored in the furnace room of his family’s Oshkosh home.

“It was a private, quiet, shut-the-door location. Even my kids didn’t know I had a talent for drawing,” said Keliher, 40.

Akin to the keeping of a personal life journal, Keliher regarded his work as a kind of personal prayer not to be shared with anyone.

“I thought they were never good enough. I always saw the flaws in them, so I never wanted to share them,” Keliher said.

But a strong growth in his faith, coupled with encouragement from his wife, Jean, and eldest daughter, Kendra, proved too much to contain his talent and desire to evangelize God’s word through his art.

“If you have a gift from God, it should be used for his glory,” Jean Keliher said.

One day Keliher’s wife literally brought his drawing table and drawing pencils out of the furnace room and into the light of the world, said Keliher, who attends St. Jude the Apostle Parish in Oshkosh.

The result is a growing Christian art business, Ars Deo, Latin for “Art for God,” and an emerging recognition from friends and others of Keliher’s artistic talent.

For the past year, Keliher has sold prints of his art at Christian gatherings such as the Esto Vir men’s conference in Appleton and at the recent Women of Christ Conference in West Bend.

“I draw to bring others to Christ,” said Keliher.

An account development representative for an Oshkosh marketing firm, Keliher said it was challenging to open up his personal space, or private life of drawing, to the general public.

“It is really humbling to put it out there to see acceptance of it,” Keliher said.

The personal nature of Keliher’s artistic work is borne out in a 2005 drawing of a pieta, or Mary holding the lifeless body of Jesus following the crucifixion.

Keliher and his wife previously spent a lot of time praying in the former adoration chapel at St. Mary Church.

“We gathered a lot of comfort there,” Keliher said.

When the chapel was blocked off and a perpetual adoration chapel built on the ground floor, Keliher sought to preserve the image of a pieta in the original chapel.

“So I had a friend take photos of the pieta, drew a picture of it and gave it to my wife to recognize all the time of sharing and significance it had in our life,” Keliher said. “I draw a lot of statues and things I see in churches. Usually, when we leave church we leave behind all the symbols we see. I figure, ‘Why can’t we go out in the world with the image to reflect upon?’”

Why he elects to draw a particular scene is not always clear to Keliher.

“The most remarkable thing is what a drawing can do for other people in their faith journey,” Keliher said.

One of his earlier prints, that of the pieta, found a surprising, but deserving home.

“We were at the Esto Vir men’s conference in Appleton when a man approached with tears in his eyes,” Keliher said.

The man’s wife was suffering from cancer and the only thing comforting her was the image of a pieta.

“I gave him the print. It must have been meant for him.” Keliher said.

Keliher said he feels God draws though him. “My hands are his work.” He gave an example.

Fulfilling a desire to personally read through the Stations of the Cross, Keliher picked up a book and started reading.

“In my hand I had a black Sharpie pen tapping on a piece of paper, like musicians tap their feet when playing music,” Keliher said.

Finally glancing at the paper, Keliher found he had tapped a series of dots, in art a technique called stippling, the hand of Pontius Pilot condemning Jesus to death. “I had not looked at the paper when I was tapping with the pen. And I have never used the stippling technique,” Keliher said.

Keliher took the unplanned picture as a sign he should continue reading and praying through the Stations of the Cross and draw a picture of each station.

Two and a half hours later, the drawing, using the same stippling technique, this time looking at the paper, was complete.

“I was in awe of what was in front of me. Why did I do it? I have no clue,” Keliher said.

In addition to providing supplemental income for his family, Keliher said his desire in selling prints is to call others to God.

“My intent is to evangelize, but evangelize is a tough word,” Keliher said. “I am not trying to push my art on anyone, but if it meets someone where they are in life for whatever reason, that is what I want to do.”

To view or to purchase Keliher’s artwork, visit his website, www.arsdeo.com.

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