Artists in Motion: Amy Hannum's meditation practice fuels her work and art

Artist Amy Hannum in her New London studio. Work from her Spider Web series hangs behind her. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Artist Amy Hannum in her New London studio. Work from her Spider Web series hangs behind her. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Artists are almost always able to explain the inspiration behind a piece, a series, or the particular medium that they work in. For New London-based conceptual/abstract artist Amy Hannum, who also works as an interior designer, film set designer and Reiki energy healer, the driving inspiration behind all of her work, she says, stems from a daily hour-long meditation practice.

“When I meditate, I am able to close everything out and I’m able to just see what pops up and see what connections are being made and what’s going on in the world around me and how all of that relates,” she says while sitting in her colorful studio (think deep-red Oriental carpet, bright yellow upholstered antique furniture, vibrant pieces of art situated along the walls) on State Street earlier this week. “For me, (meditation) feels like getting connected. When I have a really good, deep meditation, I feel like the universe is talking to me … That’s where these images are coming from and that’s what propels me to make art.”

Her recent body of work, “Migration Series,” on display at the Credabel Coral Lab (on view until April 15) was inspired from precisely this. Described as a meditation on the “journey through life as human beings,” Hannum’s abstract encaustic (made from melted beeswax) sculptural works seek to depict life events — ones that most everyone has experienced — in order to promote understanding among one another. To get to that point, however, Hannum says that she meditated on the scenarios she would depict prior to starting the project. Abandonment, exploration and aging were some of the themes rendered into the shellfish-inspired sculptural series.

“Meditation is definitely a way for me to ground and reconnect all the frantic energy happening throughout our lives,” she says. “When I meditate, and it doesn’t happen every time, I will get the ideas and the colors I need to work with for my next piece.”

Background:

Hannum, after arriving to the region in 1995, has established herself as a well-known presence in the New London art scene. She is known not only for her art (she has shown at downtown galleries and local museums several times throughout the years) but for her large-scale interactive installations that include her Ice Carnival and Black Light Garden Party featured as part of Hygienic’s Winter Art Festival over the last four years, and her 9-foot lobster piñata for Hygienic’s 30th anniversary party.

Hannum has also worked as an interior designer, redesigning homes from New York City to Boston (“People come to me when they want something really well done and want a collaborative process … I get really close to my clients, they tell me everything. The more they tell me how they live, the more I can make their house work for them”) and as a film set designer (she assisted in designing the set for a Bob’s Discount Furniture commercial earlier this year and designed three film sets for the New Haven 48-hour Film Festival 2014-2016).

Originally from Midland, Michigan, Hannum says that she has been involved in the arts since she was 3 years old, when her mother placed her in a dance class. From there, she went through her childhood participating in gymnastics, theater, art and music. At 13, Hannum started helping design the sets for her hometown’s professional performance space, pushing her to consider a career in set design. Pursuing such a degree, though, wasn’t embraced by her parents, so she studied interior design and business at Delta College in Michigan, where she earned an associate’s degree in 1993.

When Hannum received an opportunity to move to southeastern Connecticut in 1995, she started taking art classes at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts and Rhode Island School of Design. Then, while working for Connecticut College as a web designer and programmer, Hannum pursued a bachelor’s degree at the college in architectural studies and sculpture. She graduated in 2012.

In 1999, Hannum founded her business Paint Dragon Design, which started out exclusively promoting Hannum’s interior design and faux finishing services but has since grown to incorporate all of Hannum’s art and design work and her Reiki energy healing services.

Reiki energy healing plays a part:

Reiki and energy healing have also played a significant part throughout Hannum’s life and work. Since she was 6 years old, Hannum says that she has been unusually attuned to the energies of places and people surrounding her. She also says that she experiences intuitive premonitions about upcoming events, outcomes and situations.

“When my great grandmother died, I was 6, and I always felt that she was around me still. And that’s when I started getting premonitions, I started having visions and having this sense of ESP. I just knew things, but I didn’t know where I was getting the information. I’m not psychic, I can’t read minds, but I would just know things,” Hannum says, explaining that her grandmother also was a healer and felt that she would communicate with Hannum after she had passed on.

At 19, Hannum decided to pursue these inclinations in the form of Reiki energy healing — a healing technique that requires a trained therapist to channel energy into a patient by means of touch while the patient sits or lies in a relaxed state. She received her master’s certificate in Reiki energy healing in 2009.

Now, Hannum says that she uses a combination of Reiki practices along with her own intuitive methods, which typically involve an ability to see auras, energies and chakras (the seven centers of spiritual power in the human body according to ancient Indian tradition). Hannum sees all of this as colors emanating from a person, which communicate to her where a patient may need healing.

These practices have also translated throughout her artwork. Recently, Hannum started developing her “Color Vibration Series” — recreated images of the chakras and energies she witnesses while in healing sessions with her patients. She renders the images through photoshop based on her memory of the experience.

Hannum says that she knows what she does may sound crazy, and there are skeptics of her work, but she doesn’t let that stop her. “My husband, who is a pharmacist, is a huge skeptic and even he believes in my ability to help people,” she says.

What’s fascinating about the series, other than its materializing what Hannum sees in her mind’s eye while helping a patient, is how each person’s chakras, for example, can look completely different from one another.

One patient’s root chakras (those located in the lower abdomen) might be surrounded by deep black energy, while another’s heart chakra will be surrounded by a dark green — a byproduct of what was once black energy, Hannum says. The heart energy can also be an intensely bright green in another person, meaning that the patient has a healthy, strong heart energy, or it can be red, perhaps signifying pain or inflammation.

“If I see black energy, it usually means that there has been some trauma or pain, or a blockage of energy. Black energy can also take different meaning depending on where it is in the body, which will tell me if it’s chakra-related or pain and trauma-related,” says Hannum. “I will see different colors, but it’s the energy that comes with it that will tell me what’s going on, whether it’s a healthy energy or something that needs healing.”

How it all intersects:

“All of my work intersects with each other,” she says. “What it comes down to, for all of it — the art, the interior and set design and my healing practice — is spatial analysis, color and emotion. That is what locks them together.”

Quick takes:

Top 5 artists: Marina Abramovic, David Lynch, Wassily Kandinsky, Alexander Calder, Josef Albers

If you were locked in a museum for a night — which one? Gillette’s Castle

Favorite Album: “Currently, it’s ‘10,000 Hz Legend’ by Air.”

Which artist, living or dead, would you most like to hang out with? Simon Doonan

m.biekert@theday.com

 

“Exotic Birds,” a collage of tiny and finely cut plastic triangles arranged together in 96 hours over five days on a wood board. (Courtesy of Amy Hannum)
“Exotic Birds,” a collage of tiny and finely cut plastic triangles arranged together in 96 hours over five days on a wood board. (Courtesy of Amy Hannum)
'Torso” from “Color Vibration Series.” A depiction of someone’s heart chakra undergoing Hannum’s energy healing process, from start to finish. (Courtesy of Amy Hannum)
"Torso” from “Color Vibration Series.” A depiction of someone’s heart chakra undergoing Hannum’s energy healing process, from start to finish. (Courtesy of Amy Hannum)

If you go

What: "Migration Series" art exhibition by Amy Hannum

Where: Credabel Coral Lab, 153 Bank St., New London

When: Through April 15. The show will then reopen May 12 at New Haven's Ely Center of Contemporary Art

Price: Free

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday

Contact: (860) 908-8406, or visit Hannum's website at paintdragon.com

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