Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
Jaziel Pugh didn't have to look far to find mentors who would inspire and support his artistic journey.
Although these mentors – his grandmother and aunts – won’t literally be visible in pieces he created that will be on display at Kellogg Community College
to commemorate and celebrate Black History Month
, Pugh says he will feel their presence. Pugh’s exhibit titled “Solo” will run through Feb. 28. It includes more than a dozen large digital prints featuring his reoccurring original character Soul and explores his personality in a variety of environments and different lifestyles.
Through his digital print of Soul
, Pugh says he wants to communicate that the images people will see are more than a cartoon or a character. Soul is featured showing different personalities and doing different things that take the viewer through his evolution as showcased in the prints. And that's their universal appeal.
Jaziel Pugh’s exhibit titled “Solo” will run through Feb. 28 at KCC.
“These pictures represent different natures to which Soul can mold himself into,” Pugh says of the character in an artist’s statement. “By transcending through these phases he starts to understand who he is, but more importantly who he can become.”
Pugh’s own path to understanding was populated with his grandmother and aunts who provided him with inspiration through the hairstyles they created as hairdressers. Pugh says they recently retired after 50 years as owners of their own hair salon business.
“Growing up around them I saw what they did. Styling hair may not seem like an art, but it is,” he says. “I learned a lot watching them create the hairstyles and the way they adapted that stuff over time and being entrepreneurs and working for themselves. I always looked up to them.”
He says he never questioned the decision to make art his focus because of the support he received from his family.
“I’m thankful. All of my family is pretty supportive. I never had family members or my parents say, ‘You’ve got to do this or you have to do this,” Pugh says. “Whatever I chose to do, everybody pretty much supported it. They always knew I was good at art.
Jaziel Pugh's butterfly mural was painted 2017 and can be found at 20th Street and Territorial Road.
His interest in art began in elementary school and continued through his time as a student at Battle Creek Central High School. He is a 2013 graduate of BCCHS.
“I was into building with Legos, drawing, coloring, and making flipbooks with sticky notes,” says Pugh, a multi-disciplinary artist. “I had a lot of friends playing sports and I was always the opposite of that.”
In 2016 he decided to become a professional artist after his work began generating serious buzz inside and outside of the community. This choice came at a time when he says, “I was doing a lot of stuff I shouldn’t have been doing. I had one of those moments where I knew I was either going to go all-in on this thing and my art or do something that was not art-related. I had no money at the time and I was staying with my grandparents. I knew I had to figure out a way to make money and survive. So, I thought I’d do art and see where it goes.”
His breakthrough piece was a painting of a pink flamingo that he entered in a “Fall Into the Arts” event.
“I had stuff on display before that, but it wasn’t anything like the painting. People admired and appreciated it. A lot of people gravitated to it,” Pugh says.
Bolstered by this recognition, he decided in 2017 to make art a full-time job. His artist's palette expanded to include murals
he was commissioned to do as well as mixed media, drawings, and digital work. He says he likes the mural work because of the opportunities it gives him to create images that are big and bold and take up a lot of space.
But, he doesn’t want to be known for one art form and says, “Sometimes I’m feeling like doing one thing and then I feel like it’s time to do something else.”
He describes his art as colorful, bold, and edgy.
Jaziel Pugh's two-part mural titled "Two Sides to Every Story" is displayed in the Teen Room at Willard Library's downtown location.
“I’m growing and evolving,” Pugh says. “I go through phases. Sometimes I’m really high up and everything is going good and sometimes I’m at a low point. I don’t want to backtrack or do anything old. My new work going to be edgy. I want people to expect better work from me. I’ve been working on some very personal styles.”
His “Solo” show is an example of this and is the first exhibit of his digital work. When KCC approached him two months ago, he says he was in a tough spot and wasn’t sure if he had the capacity to do it.
“Whatever personal stuff I was going through, I knew I would work it out,” Pugh says. “Initially I was going to make a bunch of paintings but I didn’t have time. I talked about using Soul too, but Soul paintings on canvas would take a long time. Then I thought about using digital prints because a lot of those were already done.”
Last year, he took a job painting aircraft for Duncan Aviation because he realized he wasn’t yet at a point where he could make a living strictly as an artist. He says this job allows him to use a different form of creativity. He has found a balance that enables him to pay his bills while also focusing on his own personal growth as an artist.
“When I started this journey as an artist, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Pugh says. “For me, it’s not about fame and fortune. It’s about creating images that draw people in and allow them to interpret it the way they see it.”