Interview with Artist Hasani Claxton

Who are some artists and/or illustrators who have influenced your work? How and why?

I’ve always loved artists from the Golden Age of American Illustration. NC Wyeth, in particular, because of his painterly approach and how he brought elements of Impressionism into his artwork. My biggest influences among contemporary illustrators are Greg Manchess and Donato Giancola, both of whom are oil painters, like me. I studied with them at the Illustration Master Class in 2009 and watching their painting demos was awe-inspiring.

HASANI CLAXTON | Maryland State Arts Council

Rhea Ewing led the Dream Foundry’s Official Media Exploration Club in a discussion of the theme of vulnerability in art, including your illustrations “A Well-Earned Rest” and “Broken”. Can you tell us a little about the theme of vulnerability in your work?

I did “Broken” and “A Well Earned Rest” when my children were younger and really into fairies. I became frustrated by the lack of Black fairies and decided to create my own. Rather than paint them as cute, Disney-style pixies, I decided to focus on their strength, even in the face of profound loss and struggle.

Leaving the World Behind" by Hasani Claxton | Black folk art ...

How has the field been changing in the past ten years, and how do you see the current health crisis impacting the field?

When I graduated art school, we were still mostly promoting our work with postcards. Nowadays a strong online presence is crucial, especially on social media. All of my recent freelance work came from people who saw my website or Facebook page. Also, the rise of self-publishing has opened up some opportunities for freelancers. An indie publisher may not pay as well, but they offer valuable experience.

The Covid crisis caused many gallery exhibitions to be canceled, which was extremely disappointing. At the same time, being stuck inside gave me a chance to work on new personal work and I’ve recently seen an unexpected uptick in freelance commissions. I suspect because most freelance illustrators work from home anyway, we’ll be able to weather the crisis.

The Art of Hasani Claxton

What have been some challenges for you, as a working artist? What have been some of your triumphs and joys?

I used to be a lawyer and early in my art career, when I was struggling to make ends meet, I often wondered if I’d made a huge mistake going to art school.

I began submitting artwork to the Spectrum Fantastic Art Annual in 2008 and kept trying every year. I just got in last year. Around the same time, my artwork was chosen for an exhibition at the National Gallery of Jamaica, my first at a major art institution.

The Art of Hasani Claxton

What is some advice you could pass along to people just starting out in the field? How can we work to support each other?

Be persistent. You will face a lot of rejection, but keep working on your craft and submitting your artwork. Eventually you will find your audience.

One of the things I miss the most from art school is getting critiques from my peers. Often getting other artists’ perspectives can help take your artwork to the next level. Forming Critique Groups is a great way to tap into that collective creativity.

HASANI CLAXTON | Maryland State Arts Council

Hasani Claxton

Hasani Claxton is a visual artist, author and educator from St. Kitts, West Indies. His love of art began 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, receiving a BFA in Illustration in 2009 and an MFA in Studio Art from Towson University in 2017.  He currently teaches visual arts at Bowie State University and resides in Baltimore, MD.

His artwork has been exhibited in the United States, UK, and the Caribbean, including the National Gallery of Jamaica. He made’s “Best of 2014” list and his work has appeared in Spectrum (Contemporary Fantastic Art Annual) and Creative Quarterly.