“This Is Helena” fans who’ve attended the popular art exhibit at Free Ceramics in the past, should be pretty familiar with works by Adam Riggs.

His canvases are not ones you soon forget.

“This Is Helena,” now in its fourth year, brings together work by Riggs and that of more than 100 other Helena artists who use an array of different media.

Expect to see paintings, photos, pots, quilts, marble and brass sculptures, jewelry, cut paper art and much more.

The opening public reception is 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21, at Free Ceramics Studio Art Center, 650 Logan St. It runs through Dec. 17.

Once again, Riggs does not disappoint.

His huge oil painting, “Throne of Suppression,” features a wolf wearing a business suit and royal red robe slouching in a throne, his feet resting on the heads of sheep and a sheepskin draped atop his head and shoulders.

“I was thinking about the political season,” Riggs said. “To me this painting is about free will.”

Not only was he thinking about who wields political power, but how all people also have internal struggles with their own ego and personality and their own free will.

Riggs is reluctant to say much more. He wants the viewers to create their own narrative of what’s going on in his pictures.

A previous year, his painting, “Self Worship” depicted a baboon wearing a jeweled crown sitting atop a stack of books, his mouth open in a roar with teeth bared, while his hands fiddle with a yo-yo.

Another year, it was “”Sheep Go to Heaven, Goats Go to Hell,” a painting of a giant king of hearts card with the head of a mountain sheep on one end, and a mountain goat on the other.

“You spin it,” said Riggs as he gave the card a pull to set it in motion -- so the viewer decides which one is headed where.

This canvas, like many of Riggs’ works, was inspired by a song. “I’m a huge music fan. Sometimes it’s just a lyric from a band” that brings an image to mind.

In this case, it was a Cake song that got his paintbrush moving.

“A lot of times when I work I don’t know what I’m doing,” he said. “I start drawing. My idea is to just let the image or piece of art evolve on its own. So I usually start with something simple that I think is kind of cool.” Then he adds and subtracts things to see what works.

A canvas he’s working on in his living room was started a year-and-a-half ago. He lets it sit, and as the months go by he begins to see where he wants to go with it.

Often, his canvas will include a wild animal image, owing to both Riggs’ love of nature and inspiration from his work at Monarch Taxidermy, where he builds bases and habitats for mounts.

It’s a job he loves, he said. “I get to go to work and build mountains. They give me the animals and say, ‘Make something cool.’”

He’s also been fascinated with nature since he was a child.

“When I was a kid, I started collecting bones and skulls and just rocks and things I could find, and it became an obsession with me. ... I think skulls are beautiful, sculptural.

“My stuff with animals stems from thinking about the purity and innocence of nature -- that we as human beings have been separating ourselves from mentally.”

But the close relationship of animals and humans goes back throughout time, he said.

“Human beings have been turning themselves into animals forever. All these ancient cultures have relationships with animals,” whether it’s worshipping animals or seeing themselves as half human and half animal.

When Riggs isn’t backpacking, or hiking, or working, or hanging out with his daughters, he’s likely making art.

“I’ve been making art since I was a little kid,” he said. He grew up in Miles City and after high school took a year off and then headed to the University of Montana-Missoula to study art, where he graduated in 2004 with a bachelor’s of fine arts degree. 

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To him, he’s learned the most by just making art.

“I do it for my own sanity,” he said.

It’s also a journey of self discovery.

“I’m trying to create this language that is not as limiting as real physical words ... but something deeper than that,” he said. “Art is the only way to get feelings and emotions out there that are deeper than words.”

As to his future in art, “I don’t have a plan,” he said. “I just want to do the work and go along for the ride.”

His immediate goal is putting together enough high-quality works to have a solo show in a good gallery.

A student of art history, Riggs is particularly influenced by artists ranging from Salvador Dali, Chet Zar and Alex Grey to Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and Peter Paul Rubens.

“My painting style I always try to go back to is Caravaggio and ... Rubens. ... Structurally, the way that they paint is a way I really strive to follow. They were very big on layers with thin washes to get that depth.”

He admits he’s had to give the technique a modern twist -- otherwise it would take years for him to finish his paintings.

Riggs’ art interests and subjects range a lot further than what one has seen in “This Is Helena.”

“I’m not a one-trick pony,” he said. He does portraits, animals and landscapes in styles that range from realism to surrealism to fantasy and visionary art.

For more information about Riggs, visit adamriggsart.com.

And for more information about “This Is Helena,” call 438-6212 or visit www.freeceramics.com.

Reporter Marga Lincoln can be reached at 447-4083 marga.lincoln@helenair.com

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