Artwork creators: Universal message that Christ’s redeeming love is within anyone’s grasp

Culley Davis remembers cycling on the back roads west of Utah Lake one Saturday four years ago, mulling what a featured illustration might look like for planned projects focusing on the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the Savior’s life and teachings.

The hope: a visual creating an impression of the Savior and His deep, abiding love offered to each individual and an illustration both personal and inviting. He had commissioned Utah artist Jay Bryant Ward, and the two had been tweaking the projects’ titles and moving away from images of pain and suffering of the Crucifixion.

Coming suddenly to mind, he envisioned an image of the Savior’s outstretched hand and another hand reaching up to grasp His. “The image was clear and powerful — that’s me, that’s everybody,” he recalled of implied point of view. “I had to stop and get off the bike. I fell to my knees on the side of the road and just bawled. It took me five, six minutes to get composure.”

With that image in mind, Davis and Ward worked together to produce a digital “painting” called “Within Our Grasp.” The piece has been used in Latter-day Saint settings and by entities of other faiths; it has been displayed as a reminder of hope and healing, both in a prison and at the bedside of those ailing with physical infirmities.

The message is universal — that Christ’s redeeming love is within anyone’s grasp. “No matter our sins and mistakes, they cannot push us beyond the reach of the Savior’s power to change, redeem, cleanse and sanctify us,” Culley said. “What Christ offers us is free — if we will just take His hand and follow Him.”

The original digital illustration took several months to produce, with Ward using photography to compose and move around visual elements and Photoshop to produce the final, painting-like image. Uses so far range from a full-page illustration accompanying an article by President Russell M. Nelson in the April 2020 Ensign magazine to being featured for a week’s run on a Christian television station in Romania earlier this year.

Davis and Ward later collaborated on a traditional painting of “Within Our Grasp” as well as a two-minute video showing Ward at different stages of painting the piece. “I had the digital image to look at and wanted to make some improvements and refinements,” said Ward of the traditional version.

The same weekend the video was finished, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — who heard of the painting through a mutual friend — asked to use the image and video in a missionary devotional broadcast he was taping the following Monday. Elder Uchtdorf later added in a Facebook post the video of the creation of the traditional painting.

And Davis has packed a canvas reprint to take with him to the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah. He uses it in his Gospel Doctrine lessons, having volunteered there for several years, and distributes small cards and bookmarks with the image to inmates there.

“I’ve had men in my class from 85 years old down to 19,” Davis said. “That’s when I saw the Atonement of Jesus Christ in full power.”

The two men both have extensive backgrounds in business and entrepreneurship — Davis in marketing, patents and taking a number of companies public, and Ward inventing a new type of frame in addition to his art and art instruction work. But financial gain isn’t the motivation behind “Within Our Grasp.”

Rather, the piece is the cover illustration for a book and a featured visual element for a nonprofit film on the Atonement and Savior’s ministry, all with the same “Within Our Grasp” name. Proceeds from the book and public sales of the painting reproductions will help fund the film, a compilation of 23 scenes from Christ’s life, with each scene opening with an illustration similar to the current one.

“This is not to make money — this is a passion project for the Lord. This is Culley’s passion project,” said Ward of Davis, who was instrumental in fundraising for the Church’s Kirtland, Ohio, restoration project two decades ago.

Ward said “it’s a delicate balance” of using one’s professional talents and producing materials that resonate with those of the Latter-day Saint faith — remaining “true to my testimony” while not being seen as trying to take financial advantage of the market.

“Each of my paintings have taught me a lesson in my life.”

He welcomes the influx of Latter-day Saint artists, nothing there were only three or four prominent names in the market when he started professionally, with dozens now providing a wide range of “beautiful, beautiful art … a celebration of the Lord’s work.”

Culley Davis, left, commissioned a recent painting of Christ called "Within Our Grasp" by artist Jay Bryant Ward. The two are photographed in South Jordan on Wednesday, March 31, 2021.
Culley Davis, left, commissioned a recent painting of Christ called “Within Our Grasp” by artist Jay Bryant Ward. The two are photographed in South Jordan on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

An admitted challenge is trying to depict Christ — and others — without knowing what the Savior looks like. “Within Our Grasp” doesn’t show much of Christ other than a hand and a wrist, but he’s done other works with facial representations and the like.

Ward once asked his father “What am I going to do when I meet Him and He looks nothing like I painted Him?”

His father replied: “Well, you used to draw pictures of me when you were little, and I didn’t exactly appreciate what you do. But, in fact, I really did. How disappointed do you think you’re really going to feel and the Lord’s going to feel when you’ve spent your life trying to bring reverence, to emulate the tender mercies for His children in different ways.”

Davis said the message of Ward’s painting — and the image he first envisioned — is that “the greatest attribute that Jesus Christ possesses is perfect love. He is the epitome of mercy, compassion, tenderness and kindness.”