Perspective: The aesthetic eccentrics behind the ARCH-HIVE

An art collective founded by two active Latter-day Saints seeks to create a new aesthetic and community.

When you think of Christian art, you probably think of the paintings of Jesus or Bible scenes. But a growing artist collective might change that.

The ARCH-HIVE, founded by two active Latter-day Saints, seeks to gather religious and Utah artists under a large tent. I remember the first time I came across their work. 

One of my friends shared an image online with the words “I WANT TO BELIEVE” written in big, bold letters. Above the words, a small figure in a grove of trees faces a column of light. This interpretation of the First Vision is more archetypal than realistic.

“I Want to Believe” poster created by Laz. | Laz

I learned by reading the caption of the image that the artist who created the poster — he goes by LAZERos — was part of this eclectic group that not only produces gothic and esoteric art but also prints prose and poetry about anything from Utah Lake to scary ghost stories. I was drawn to this offbeat aesthetic, and the way the art celebrated the peculiarity of Utah and Latter-day Saint culture.

I wanted to know why and how the ARCH-HIVE came to be, so I sat down with the two founders — Desert Prophet and LAZERos (Laz for short). They go by these personas to allow their art to stand slightly apart from their own personal identities.

When I say LAZERos aloud, I ask him if it’s a riff on Lazarus. He chuckles and tells me that it is and that the name is also meant to reflect the themes in his art. The name Desert Prophet evokes John the Baptist and the miles of Utah desert that stretch across the state.

Artist Camilla Stark is photographed in the studio of her home in Provo, Utah, on Friday, May 13, 2022. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

They started ARCH-HIVE after chatting on Instagram. Laz reached out to the Desert Prophet, aka Camilla Stark, and discussed each other’s work. Rather than creating strictly devotional pieces, Laz made art that represented his wrestle with faith. Stark said his art allowed her to know how to work within a religious space in a different way. She told me, “When I started talking to Laz, I was beginning to explore the duality of dark and light within the scriptures in my artwork.” Communicating with Laz helped encourage her to lean into this unique form of religious art.

Laz told me that when he started creating art, he wanted to depict his struggles and his desires to believe. Art became a vehicle for discovery. He didn’t feel at home in the traditional Latter-day Saint art community and neither did she, so they started their own collective. 

“We aren’t creating foyer art,” Stark says. They hope their art speaks to people wherever they are on their faith journeys, peering into overlooked corners and exploring them in nonconfrontational ways. When speaking about his own faith alongside his art, Laz emphasized that belief, like creation, can sometimes be uncomfortable and cause one to reach and stretch. 

The mission of the ARCH-HIVE is not totally devotional nor totally secular, he says. Influenced by the Art and Belief movement that began in 1966, Laz told me, “We’ve always been exploring and encouraging people to not think in a binary, polarizing way. We want people to feel like they can be faithful in a cool way, they can question things in a faithful way.”

Camilla Stark works on her graphic novel at her home in Provo, Utah, on Friday, May 13, 2022. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Stark told me that they want people to feel welcome, including those with nontraditional paths and nontraditional beliefs. While she sees her artwork as consecration, it’s important to her to create entry points for others. James Joyce once said of the church in his day — “here comes everybody,” and the collective beckons all kinds even as the art itself rarely reflects mass taste. Part of their mission, they say, is also to help other amateur artists like themselves. Neither Stark nor Laz have received classical art degrees. Laz is self-taught. Laz began sketching during sacrament meeting and Stark started doing art as a side hobby. 

A picture of the ARCH-HIVE’s print magazine called ARCH ZINE. | Camilla Stark

Stark creates all kinds of art from block prints to ink drawings and sketches incorporating various mediums, while Laz creates mostly digital art and occasional dioramas or curated spaces. They see themselves as existing in a type of artistic dualism: non-digital and digital art. In their print magazine, The HIVE ZINE, they publish poetry, prose, comic-book style art, pop art, and much more to represent the peculiar corners of Utah.

Laz stated that they want to help people who don’t see themselves as artists to still “nurture seeds of creativity.” He said, “There are a lot of people who have ideas but don’t consider themselves artists. We met a lot of these people who we have given a little nudge to, and then they made things.” 

Laz poses for a portrait with his digital artwork at his home in West Valley City on Tuesday, May 17, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Their grassroots movement is unique in the Latter-day Saint art world. Historically, the faith’s art scene has centered around realism and beautiful portraits of scriptural figures and scenes. The ARCH-HIVE creates art that incorporates a broader range of elements that can sometimes seem offbeat, but occupies a unique and valuable space in the art world. Take for example, Stark’s piece entitled “Theophany,” which the Springville Museum included at their Depictions of Divinity show. 

Stark depicted the dark and light in this piece and included the words “Always” and “Watching” on it along with the all seeing eye and the biblical fire by night and cloud by day. 

Camilla Stark’s piece entitled “Theophany” present at the Springville Museum. | Camilla Stark

In addition to depicting God in unique and interesting ways, Stark and LAZERos also create humorous art. 

They sell campaign T-shirts, for example, of the presidential run of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. Laz also curated a space to feel like a midcentury modern living room. He also designed and ordered a custom pizza box with his riff on the Little Caesars pizza logo that had “Little Seer’s Pizza” written on it. 

Recreation of Home Shrine, Deseret X-9, c. 5755 at the show “Holy Hell.” | Laz

This underscores The ARCH-HIVE’s mission: it creates a space for faith within forms of art that aren’t typically viewed devotional, suggesting God’s reach extends to people in all walks of life. Stark informed me that some artists move from Utah to a place like Los Angeles and never mention that they are from Utah again. The ARCH-HIVE founders want artists of all stripes to celebrate their people and place.

For them, this starts with preserving that place. The ARCH-HIVE has created stickers and t-shirts that say “Refill Lake Bonneville” as a tongue in cheek plug for caring for the earth, which is a major part of her art. 

Camilla Stark works on her graphic novel at her home in Provo, Utah, on Friday, May 13, 2022. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

She described her forthcoming graphic novel which tells a parable about the earth, and Stark underscored how important it is to her to be a good steward because of her faith.

When I asked Laz about his motivations to create his art, he told me his art is a genuine expression of faith that he hopes speaks to generations who value authenticity and the struggle of following God. Stark echoed this, telling me that she wants to cultivate a genuine and authentic reflection of faith through her art as well. 

Above all they hope the collective’s desire for authenticity and eclectic aesthetic approaches will create more space and resources in the Latter-day Saint art scene for different kinds of artists, writers and creators.

The ARCH-HIVE can be found on Twitter and Instagram. Their website is found at arch-hive.net and you can sign up for their newsletter there as well.

Laz shows a poster he made at home in West Valley City, on Tuesday, May 17, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News