The Artist as Mystic
Green Gaia by Tony DiAngelis
"In Deep Creativity, art and mysticism collide because the exploration of human creativity leads invariably to a core reality that is both immanent, meaning abiding within you, and transcendent, meaning that it connects you to something greater than yourself.” ~ Victor Shamas, Deep Creativity
The very last thing artist Tony DiAngelis said as we closed our conversation for this interview was, “I see God in everyone and in all images.” To that statement, he added, “Our job as artists is to add something beautiful to the world for balance.” Essentially, Tony answered the question usually asked at the end of these queries. His unique visual creations are mixed-media contributions to healing the imbalances of our contemporary world. In this way, the artist walks a path alongside the shaman or the mystic. In earlier times, as today, those who devoted their lives to energetic balancing played a special role in the invisible ecology of life on the planet and for their communities.
What brought you to the visual arts path?
I grew up in Southern California with much influence from my maternal grandmother. She had come out from St. Louis to L.A. in the 1940s because she wanted to be an artist for Disney. That didn’t happen, but she loved the arts and made sure I had ample exposure and materials from a very young age. She gave me my first oil painting set for my 5th birthday.
Were there other formative influences as you grew up?
I was extremely fortunate to have good art instructors in the San Diego County public schools. In high school, art history was taught within the class curriculum so I saw the world’s masterpieces. I was lucky enough to have teachers who truly supported me. I actually sold work to some of my teachers both in high school and junior college.
How did life and art unfold once you left the nurturing high school setting?
I had a few years of college, but economic necessity led me to the world of work. I did an array of jobs in my 20s as I was also selling a lot of artwork. In 1980, I joined the Beverly Hills Art League as their youngest member. This group created opportunities for its members to show and sell work in venues like an Art League Gallery in the farmers’ market and an arts festival in Beverly Hills. At one point, I was showing work in the arts festival when the owner of a gallery named Gallery La Kaye invited me to show in her space. She was from Haiti. I ended up being the only white guy in her group of image-makers. Quite the honor! Around that time, two “witchcraft” stores also carried my work.
Were you working regular jobs concurrently with showing and selling your imagery?
Around the time of the recession, sales dropped so I started working part-time on weekends with developmentally disabled adults in a residential care facility. I worked that job because I have a cousin who lives with Down’s syndrome so I wanted to help him and my family out. One day, a man visited the facility and, after watching me interact with the residents, asked if I would like a job at Robert F. Kennedy Medical Center in Hawthorne with the psychiatric unit.
Can you talk about your experience at the hospital and how your work there related to arts and healing?
I worked on the psych ward for 17 years (at four different facilities) as a floor staff member initially, but eventually did intakes and other administrative duties. I was given supplies and a space to do art with clients in a lockdown unit. I am not trained as a therapist, but working there for years was the equivalent of getting a “higher education” on-site. So many of my clients were creatively brilliant. I’d say 98 percent “had it”, meaning could easily access their own visual language.
Working in that environment, I realized there are things some people simply cannot articulate. Talk therapy could only go so far in many situations. Doing art, for some clients, became a non-verbal therapy of sorts. It never ceased to amaze me when the first one to four images a person created might be filled with anger or negativity but then, almost like magic, by image number five or six, the client might draw a person standing in a field of flowers. The work would start out intense and scary, but something would shift internally once the negative images were externalized. It was like witnessing a kind of alchemical transformation. I had the unique experience of supporting clients to shift negative experiences and feelings from the past into beauty.
Did you bring any particular spiritual or religious background with you to that job?
I was raised in the Orthodox Church, which means I was surrounded by images and icons of the saints and angels my entire childhood. These images went very deep within me and are still so important to me today. I felt like I could feel the energy of God through the church imagery. What I experienced working in the hospital for so many years is that even a person with an emotional or mental “disturbance” can be a vehicle for divine energy.
Are you still involved in this healing capacity in Tucson?
In 2008, when we moved here from L.A., I went through a series of intense health issues. These medical challenges shifted me out of the workforce and into painting full-time. In 2015, I started to exhibit at Woman Kraft Gallery and eventually rented a studio space there. I also show work regularly at The Pita Jungle through their program that rotates the work of local artists through two restaurant sites.
So, you are doing your healing work now primarily through sharing your amazing images. If there is one word your patrons use when describing your work, what might that word be?
How about three words? Fun, whimsy and energy. I am so blessed to be able to share the balancing effect of beauty with others through my paintings.
Connect with Tony DiAngelis at TonyDiAngelis@yahoo.com.
Carolyn King, M.A. in Arts & Consciousness, is a local practicing artist who has worked with communities as a teaching-artist for over 30 years, both in the U.S. and Mexico. Earlier this year, she founded Heart to Hand Studio, where she offers visual arts experiences for Tucson residents and beyond. Connect at CKing72@cox.net.