While hanging his artwork in a hospital for the first time, Jeffrey Coleman knew he was on to something.
“Usually it takes me an hour to hang a show,” the Easthampton artist said of his display at Cooley Dickinson Hospital. This one, however, took four hours — mainly because he kept being interrupted by people who were taken by what they saw on the walls and wanted to talk to the artist about it.
The exhibit, “The Healing Touch,” a series of oil pastel paintings for “mothers, lovers, and others who use touch to heal,” brought Coleman’s trademark whimsy to a broader audience in Northampton, but many were surprised the works were created by a man.
That curiosity was one reason Coleman kept being interrupted as he hung up the pieces, but he doesn’t see anything odd in the subjects he addresses.
The paintings “combine my reverence for the strong women in my life with my high admiration for those who use touch to heal,” Coleman said. “You see massage therapists, midwives, doulas, mothers, fathers, babies, and the occasional funny animal.”
In other words, the Portland, Oregon native is keeping his artwork grounded in warmth and earthy values — at first, a seeming contrast to the more masculine name of his business, Coleman Energy Tools.
But that title refers not to builders’ tools, but to the spiritual energies inside each person — energies which Coleman wants to help cultivate.
To the Dogs
“My friend loves sticks and flowers and wind. She brings them all back and loves them again.”
These words grace one of Coleman’s more popular works, a dog painting that has been adapted to a variety of breeds. It’s heartwarming and colorful. And it’s not what some people expect when they stop by his store at the Eastworks building in Easthampton. “I’ve had people come by with machines to repair,” he said. “Or they want to buy Coleman tools.”
He knows very well that the company name sounds like a machine shop or hardware store, but that’s OK. Coleman has had to start from scratch in moving from Oregon to New England last year, and that meant leaving behind established customers and building a name in a new region. If that name is a bit confusing to some, he said, it’s worth the long-term effort to make a point.
“It’s the energy we can feel in our bodies,” he said. “We don’t see satellite signals, but we still see the reception on TV. Our internal energy is like that. I’m trying to help people to manipulate the energy in their lives.”
His lines of self-improvement artwork — which Coleman calls “whimsical and uplifting, but not in a cheesy, Hallmark way” — are a major piece of that effort. One might wonder about his incorporation of animals into his paintings considering a childhood experience in which he was bitten and tossed into the air, “like an astronaut,” by a great dane.
“You might say, all these years later, that I still have an astronaut’s view of the world,” related the former teacher and therapist and sometime actor and jazz pianist. “Thus, my recipe for painting: a teaspoon of humor to take the really painful parts away, a dash of left turns to keep me interested, and a whole lot of looking at the world a little bit differently.”
But it’s not only artwork to which he sets that unconventional viewpoint. An adherent of Indian concepts of chakra — a term that refers to the body’s seven energy centers — Coleman has found a way to merge that philosophy into his art.
Back in Oregon, his interest in massage led him into the field of Reiki and a stint on the faculty of East West College of the Healing Arts. In his studies, he said, he was amazed at how his art and music tied into the chakra concept.
To that end, he has developed an “anatomy of energy guide,” a vibrantly painted chart that displays each chakra in relation to its access area on the human body, its emotional polarity, and its associated color, astrological signs, and ayurvedic element. These charts are sold to alternative health practitioners, among others.
“Energy tools” like these, as he calls them, are used in the workshops and personal consultations he gives on chakra-related topics. An upcoming book, The Coleman Technique: A Step-by-step Guide to Balancing the Chakras, will bring his passion to a wider audience.
“Most charts I’ve seen are dull,” Coleman said. “I want help people understand these concepts but have fun with the information. A lot of people wouldn’t normally pick up a chart like this, but mine is something they can understand.”
Making a Difference
In Coleman’s five years of doing art professionally, he has come to recognize what people respond to, and that takes him back to his first hospital show at Cooley Dickinson, which wrapped up at the end of July.
“If you have to be in a hospital, you’re surrounded by all this serious stuff, and then here are my paintings,” he said. “I want them to uplift people in that environment. I want people to come away with positive insights.”
That attitude extends beyond his artwork. Coleman has collaborated with a company called Chanakara to create a health and lifestyle product line. He helped develop seven teas, each benefiting a different chakra and geared toward spas, yoga studios, and the massage therapy and energy work field — and for at-home use as well, as they’re formulated with flavor in mind.
There’s nothing pretentious about Coleman, just a casual, disarming demeanor that radiates enthusiasm for his art. He’s not interested in the detached, superior air that some modern artists take on to put a barrier between them and their admirers. To Coleman, it’s all about making a connection. He believes in influencing those energies because he’s seen it in himself.
“I didn’t set out to create art that reflected what I had in life; I painted what I wanted to have. And I found it,” he said.
“A lot of art, people don’t understand; they’re not connected to it,” he said. “With this, I hope they find something they can connect to.”