(Photo: Leighton Autrey)
Leighton Autrey knows the dedication it takes to be a world-class athlete. The former Major League Baseball prospect was on his way to a professional sports career until a family crisis caused him to rethink his course and pursue a career in art. Now, during one of the biggest sporting events in the world, one of his faith-based paintings is on display at the London Olympics 2012 Art Show.
The piece, which is titled "Wavering, James 1:2-8," is just one of 12 works of art that were accepted to be shown during the Olympics in a London gallery. The show is an international competition, and Autrey is just one of four American artists whose work is being displayed.
"To be displayed in a worldwide exhibition, with hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people just in the area able to see it, is absolutely incredible," Autrey told The Christian Post on Tuesday.
He submitted two paintings into the competition, but only one of them is being displayed during the Olympics. It is large – 58 inches tall by 78 inches wide – and features a man being tossed by a wave on a graffiti background. The man is grasping for something, and Autrey says he's being tossed by the wave because he's doubting God.
"That's just what happens if you doubt God and doubt yourself and doubt your abilities that God gave you," he said. "You have to trust in Him and trust in what He's given you and, if you do, you will prosper."
For nearly two decades – from the age of four to age 23 – Autrey played baseball. He played in college, and in 2004 was drafted by the Seattle Mariners, though he didn't end up signing a contract with the team.
He graduated college in December 2007 with a degree in general studies and had plans to play professional baseball in an independent league, when suddenly his mother was diagnosed with skin cancer shortly after his graduation.
"She was pretty much on her death bed," said Autrey. His father said he wouldn't leave her side, which Autrey understood to mean that he should help to take care of his brothers, so he set aside his dreams of playing baseball in order to help his family.
"That's when God really started showing Himself to me like I've never seen before," he said. "And I've seen my mom's faith, she got healed completely. I saw my dad's faith, just being a faithful husband to my mom ... And I saw how prayer works, and I just prayed to God, 'What do you want me to do with my life?'"
The answer came to him one day when he was alone in his house. He had obtained a minor in two-dimensional art in college, and he says God told him that he will paint images that correspond to the Bible. He acknowledges today that if his mother had not gotten sick when she did, he might be selfishly pursuing a career in baseball but instead he is using his artistic talent for God's glory.
"As an athlete, I know what those athletes have to go through to get there," he said of those competing in the Olympics. The "constant work and discipline" he once applied to baseball training has benefited him as a professional artist as well.
Although the majority of Autrey's works are based on biblical passages, he's still keeping in touch with his baseball roots. Some of his work was hung in the bullpen at the University of Texas baseball field, where some Major League players noticed it during their offseason workouts. He has since had paintings commissioned by San Diego Padres pitchers Huston Street and Micah Owings, and although not all of his commissioned works are Bible-based, he said he enjoys serving people through art no matter what images they ask him to create.
Previously, Autrey taught art classes to local high school students for three years prior to the end of the last school year, when he resigned. He felt led by God to pursue painting full-time, and shortly after he found out that his painting would be on display in London, his greatest achievement so far in his career.
"It's not always easy, and it might not be the popular thing to do, but God's ways are higher than our ways," he said.
Autrey and his wife, Mallary, live in Oak Leaf, Texas.
On the web: http://leightonautrey.com