"Manifestations of Peace and Joy" is on display at the Sentient Bean through Sept. 3. For more information, visit sulfurstudios.org.
YOU’D never know this just by looking, but the entire body of work in "Manifestations of Peace and Joy" was completed in just four months.
That pace is just a testament to Toni Hazel’s passion for his art.
“My work is a very spiritual journey; I love mixing spirituality with my art, and I used a lot of symbolism and a lot of things from my spiritual journey to enhance and maybe even decorate my work,” says Hazel.
Back in December, Hazel graduated from Georgia Southern and had plans to become a cartoonist and to teach English overseas.
“I wasn’t happy,” confides Hazel. “I started realizing that at the time, especially with a lot of things I was going through, my creative drive was dead. I needed a month to step back and just look back on what I actually wanted to do.”
During this time, Hazel found Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way,” which proved to be a life-changing find.
“It opened my eyes to the idea of mixing creativity into a spiritual path,” he says. “I always thought that spirituality had to have a religious vehicle, but the fact that this person was saying creativity is a spiritual path within itself was new for me.”
In “The Artist’s Way,” Cameron guides creative people to self-discovery through journaling and other exercises.
As Hazel journaled, he discovered another game changer: Hilma af Klint, the Swedish abstract artist.
“She is a pioneer of abstract art—her work predates Kandinsky,” says Hazel. “She used spirituality in her art by connecting what she calls the High Masters, and the High Masters through her abstract paintings connect to the divine.”
Armed with Cameron and Klint, Hazel began painting and hasn’t stopped since.
The paintings use primary colors and geometric shapes to evoke a specific reaction in the viewer.
“Each piece has a geometric shape or symbolism that’s supposed to resonate that idea of peace and joy,” explains Hazel. “When I put the design on it, I paint over the basic colors, almost like Jackson Pollock, but in a different way. I used my feelings, but also understand the psychology of the colors I paint over it.”
In color theory, warm colors represent joy, where cool colors represent peace, and Hazel uses both strategically.
“I had to really think about color and also intuitively allow myself to put color over it,” says Hazel. “Once I put color over it, my job was to put order into that chaos, and that’s why geometric shapes are there—it’s to help me pull out those colors to manifest those feelings.”
Since creating this series, Hazel says he most frequently is complimented on his color usage.
“I do see myself as a draftsman, but I’m very happy that my color choice resonated with people and is expressive,” says Hazel. “When I created this series, I wanted to make sure that the colors could help with both the viewer and myself manifest those feelings of peace and joy. My idea was that the viewer would look at the title of each piece and use that as affirmations or mantras they can repeat to themselves, and while they’re looking at the work, they slowly, visually, through meditation have those feelings manifest because the colors are working with it.”
After creating this series, Hazel hopes to work his way to pure abstraction, eliminating the figure completely from his work.
“In my head, there was a concept that art must have some kind of figure in the work to have some validation in it, for someone to relate to,” he says. “Other than Chicago or New York, or maybe New Mexico, most places would not look at abstract art as a valid work of art.”
Hazel believes that abstract art should be more widely embraced.
“I feel like in Savannah, maybe we should try to push more abstract art because I know here, realism is much more sellable,” he muses. “It’s understandable because of the landmarks and tourism, but I would dare even say that because we’re growing and because we’re starting to get a very huge crowd in Savannah, maybe we can start challenging New York or Chicago and make something out of this.”
One way Hazel hopes to see that change is through helping other artists understand his process.
“Because I’m doing such a spiritual work process, I needed to hone into it, so I believe in my next series I’m going to work more with sacred geometry, more with shapes and symbolism, and especially more with color psychology,” says Hazel.
He’s even working on a technique and method he calls Abstract Spiritualism.
“I want to try to make a manifesto out of that to help other artists,” he says. “I used to study a lot of philosophy and affirmations and mantras because I feel those are very helpful with artists, especially with focusing, and I’m combining those, especially with automatic drawing.”
Automatic drawing, or stream of consciousness drawing, is a great tool to practice mindfulness.
“Using affirmation to repeat to yourself while you’re doing automatic drawing, it exercises your hands and your mind,” says Hazel. “You’re no longer thinking about making something, you’re just doing it.”
All told, this gamble paid off for Hazel, and he hopes to keep working and creating.
“I’m very in love with this—I want to keep this up,” he says. “The fact that I’m even going to challenge myself to be even more abstract and take out figurative art is a challenge for me that I’m willing to accept because I believe I can do it.”