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James C. Christensen, a painter renowned for religious- and fantasy-based imagery, and a former art professor at Brigham Young University, died Sunday in Orem from the effects of cancer. He was 74.
Christensen was born Sept. 26, 1942, and was raised in Culver City, Calif. He served a two-year mission to Uruguay for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then attended the University of California at Los Angeles for a time before moving to Utah and graduating from BYU.
He taught at the LDS Church-owned Provo school for 21 years, and had his work featured in shows throughout the West, as well as in publications such as Spectrum, American Illustration Annual and Japan's Outstanding American Illustrators.
His works were often based on myths, fables and spirituality, though he told The Salt Lake Tribune in 2008 that connections between his faith and his art were not always overt.
"When you live your religion," he said, "it permeates your life and influences what you choose to do and not to do."
Christensen published three books of his work. He also received myriad honors throughout his life, including from the World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention as well as from the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Arts. He received the Governor's Award for Art by the Utah Art Council and was named one of Utah's Top 100 Artists by the Springville Museum of Art.
"The passing of my friend and mentor James Christensen has rekindled fond memories of his positivity and enthusiasm in the classroom and on study abroad where, with his encouragement and because of his example, I made a commitment at age 24 to pursue a life in art," fellow Provo artist Kent Christensen (no relation) wrote on Facebook. "I drew Jim on May 15th, 1981, the way I always think of him: sketching curbside in some European city. That day it was Segovia. Those weeks spent with him changed my life."
Christensen is survived by his wife, Carole, and their five children.
Funeral services will be held Saturday.