Kugali Spotlight: Hasani Claxton
Hasani Claxton is a visual artist, writer and educator from St. Kitts, West Indies. His love of art began with drawing in the first grade, but he did not initially pursue an art career. He studied Business Management at Morehouse College (1999) and Law at Columbia University (2003). While serving as an Assistant District Attorney in the Bronx, he began taking evening classes at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. In 2005, he decided to pursue his passion full time and enrolled in Academy of Art University in San Francisco. In 2009, he earned his BFA in illustration. His commissions have included book illustrations, album covers, portraits, and murals. His artwork has been exhibited in the United States, the Caribbean and Europe. He made Afropunk.com’s “Best of 2014” list and his work has appeared in Creative Quarterly. He currently teaches drawing at Towson University where he is working towards an MFA in Studio Art (expected May 2017).
K: What gave you the courage to pursue a career in art?
HC: I grew up in St. Kitts, West Indies, where art is generally not considered a “real job”, so I did what was expected of me and became a lawyer. I was working as a prosecutor in the Bronx, hating every minute of it, and started taking night classes at the School of Visual Arts, which became my refuge from the stress and drudgery of my day job. About 2 years into it I decided I didn’t want to spend the next 20-40 years of my life in a job I despised and enrolled in Art School full time. K: Describe the reaction of your family and close friends when you told them you wish to pursue a career in art HC: My wife was very supportive since she saw first hand how miserable I was as a lawyer. The rest of my family was supportive, or at least they didn’t voice any objections to my face. I suspect that was partly because they figured I already had a law degree to fall back on.
K: Describe the reaction of your family and close friends when you told them you wish to pursue a career in art
HC: My wife was very supportive, since she saw first hand how miserable I was as a lawyer. The rest of my family was supportive, or at least they didn’t voice any objections to my face. I suspect that was partly because they figured I already had a law degree to fall back on.
K: Now that you’re professional there’s a certain level of quality your fans have come to expect. Has this changed your creative process?
HC: I’m constantly studying other artists’ methods and experimenting with new techniques. I also adjust my process based on the needs of each project. For example, illustration commissions usually have a tight deadline so I use digital painting in the pre-visualization phase to speed things along. In contrast, with paintings meant for a gallery I’ll do countless drawings by hand to nail down my composition.
K: Describe your favourite job or project and why?
HC: My favorite project is the “Rise of the Afrotaku” series I just finished. It was my Master’s Thesis and combined my love of anime with socio-political commentary about bigotry and police brutality.
K: Describe your worst job or project and why?
HC: My first job out of art school was a commission to paint a black steel worker. It’s not a subject matter that usually interests me, but that’s what the client wanted. I spent a month on it, including research. When it was done, the client disappeared, stopped returning my emails and calls. That was in 2009 and painting is still sitting in my closet.
K: Describe your creative process from the point of inspiration to completing a piece.
HC: For paintings, I’m usually inspired by something in history or contemporary pop culture. I do my research, print out pictures related to my subject matter and line the walls of my studio with them. I then do as many thumbnail sketches as I can. These are so rough that they look like scribbles to everyone else but me. I narrow these down to my 2 favourites and do more developed sketches of those 2, then pick the one I prefer. I take reference photos to figure out lighting and anatomy and do my final pencils. I transfer the pencils to my canvas using a projector or the grid method then do an underpainting in sepia acrylic paint.
Most of the oil painting is done in a single layer. I’ll go over that layer with translucent washes of to enhance highlights and adjust colours. For sculptures, I do the same amount of research. I basically sketch in 3D by doing small maquettes in Sculpey (polymer clay). I sculpt in oil-based clay (Chavant or Monster Clay) then do a mould making and casting process similar to that use to make movie makeup effects. I make a mould of the sculpture in polyurethane. I pour silicone into the mould then brush in resin to make the skull. I paint the silicone with diluted silicone pigment then punch the hair.
K: What do you think separates good art from great art?
HC: Practising the craft and developing your ideas. Particularly if you do realism, it takes a very long time to hone your skills, which is why it’s important to draw and paint from life as much as possible. I think of art as a visual language and those skills make up your vocabulary. Once you learn the vocabulary the question becomes, “what do you have to say?” When inspiration strikes, you don’t want to go with your first sketch. Do as many sketches a possible to flesh our your ideas and find the best way to communicate them.
K: When you think of beautiful art what’s the first name that comes to mind?
HC: Gustav Klimt
K: If you could go 5 years into the past talk to your younger self what would you say?
HC: Networking is crucial for an artist. Cultivate any contacts you make.
K: Who are your top 5 favourite artists?
HC: In no particular order
– Kerry James Marshall
– Takashi Murakami
– Bernard Rancillac
– Gustav Klimt
– Evan Penny
K: Describe your art in a sentence?
HC: My artwork challenges popular misconceptions regarding black people, our culture and our history.
K: What can we expect from you in the future?
HC: Once I finish up the Afrotaku series, I plan to do a set large scale paintings and sculptures dealing with the issue of internalised racism and how it affect the self-esteem of black people.