Priest and abstract-expressionist painter Bill Moore dies

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FILE - This Oct. 29, 2009 file photo shows Father Bill Moore with one of his pieces of art in his studio at the Pomona Arts Colony in Pomona, Calif. Father Bill Moore, a Catholic priest and prominent abstract expressionist who spent decades spreading spiritualism through his paintings, has died. He was 71. Longtime friend Tom Irwin says Moore died Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020 of prostate cancer. Seeing his artistic talent, Moore's Southern California parish, the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, allowed him to spend much of his time painting. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

LOS ANGELES – Father Bill Moore, a Catholic priest and prominent abstract expressionist who spent decades spreading spiritualism through his paintings, has died at age 71.

Moore died Sunday at a Southern California hospice, his longtime friend and art representative, Tom Irwin, told The Associated Press on Monday. The cause was prostate cancer.

Ordained in 1975, he continued to paint and sometimes conduct Sunday Mass until recent months.

A retrospective, “My Last Art Beat: Still Touching and Feeding Souls,” is on exhibit at the Progress Gallery in Pomona, California, until the end of October. Moore contributed some final, small works to it as recently as last month.

He once said his education in Catholic schools, and the respect and admiration for his church's leaders he developed there, led him to dedicate his life to the priesthood. But his dedication to art predated even that.

“I was doing little abstract paintings when I was a little boy, like around 8, 9 years old,” he told The Associated Press in 2009.

“My grandmother would just think they were the greatest things,” he added with a laugh. “The rest of the members of my family, they were, ahh, kind of more like art critics.”

At St. Teresa College in Minnesota, he recalled he ignored church orders to major in philosophy or theology, choosing art instead. By the time he studied for the seminary at Washington Theological Union, the restriction had been lifted.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Moore, also a serious rock music fan who could discuss at length the works of Van Halen and Bruce Springsteen, as well as the counterculture art of Robert Crumb. At one point, he kept a copy of Crumb's graphic novel interpretation of the "Book of Genesis" in his studio.

Initially, Moore was more of a traditional priest who painted until his superiors recognized his talents and made him head of the the Ministry of the Arts for the West Coast branch of his religious order, the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

While he would still lead Sunday masses, he was moved to a small loft and studio where he would spend most of his time painting whatever came to mind.

Working with acrylics and adding bits of metal, glass and other detritus he'd find here and there, he developed an abstract style sometimes compared to that of Mark Rothko.

His paintings have been displayed in galleries across the country, the larger works fetching as much as $15,000, Irwin said, with the money going to support his parish and the non-profit Father Bill Moore Foundation that supports fellow artists.

Born in Glendale, California, on Sept. 18, 1949, Moore said his abstract interpretations were inspired partly by childhood visits to the California desert and other peaceful sites with his father, who sought quiet serenity after seeing combat during World War II.

Although not as interested in realism, he was also skilled in that form, having created stained-glass windows for a church in Hawaii and for other church projects.

He painted six days a week, taking only Sunday off for his other priestly duties.

“I don’t know what it is to be really wealthy, but I feel so rich,” he told the AP in 2009. “I get up in the morning and I do what I love to do.”