Thursday, May 24, 2018
‘Universal Solvent’ Offers Painterly Study of Water
“Rock Salt”—Encaustic and mixed media on nine 3-D cubes 4-by-4-by-4 inches each
Thursday, February 16, 2017


As a trained biologist and an outdoorswoman, Suzanne Hazlett has long been fascinated with water.

And she’s marveled at the various forms water takes on as she’s climbed glaciers with her husband Chuck Rumpf.

Now she’s captured the translucence of watercolor and the fluidity of tides, currents and ripples in a new body of encaustic work that she’s titled “Universal Solvent.”

“Cloudburst”—Encaustic and mixed media on panel 72-by-60-by-2-inch

The exhibition is at Gail Severn Gallery in Ketchum through March 5. Hazlett will be on hand to talk about her work during this week’s Gallery Walk from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17. She also will offer a free Artist Chat at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, at Gail Severn Gallery.

“In science water is referred to as a universal solvent because, more than any other liquid, water has the ability to dissolve things and act as a solvent,” said Hazlett of the title she gave to her exhibition.

If you think Hazlett painted seascapes, you couldn’t be more wrong.

As an abstract artist, she created 35 works influenced by water. She spent nights and weekends—even New Year’s Day--in her studio layering 20 to 30 surfaces of encaustic, resin pigment and ground marble on each work as she explored the scientific and mythic properties of water.

“Sailor’s Delight”—Encaustic and mixed media on two panels

“This is my third solo exhibition at Gail Severn Gallery in three years,” she said. “The first in March 2015 was titled ‘Material Possibilities’ and focused on the way I work with my medium with earth and nature. The second, ‘Southern Exposure’ in September and October 2016, was influenced by women and girls I know and have known.”

Every painting in Hazlett's “Universal Solvent” exhibition was inspired by a story or experience. One, titled “Sailor’s Delight” was inspired by the nautical lore that a red sky at night indicates fair weather.

A 10-by-8-foot painting titled “Benevolence” was inspired by the story of Eleanor Elkins Widener, an American heiress who survived the sinking of the Titanic. She made a donation to Harvard University establishing the Widener Library in memory of her elder son Harry who perished in the sinking along with his father—Eleanor’s husband.

“My son told me the story as we were standing on the steps of the library during his graduation,” said Hazlett. “National Geographic sent a manned submarine to take photographs of the Titanic during its hundredth anniversary in 2012 and the colors from the camera lights depicting the flora and fauna growing on the ship were so evocative, so amazing. There was this exquisite inky blue around the ship and the vessel itself was turquoise.

“Benevolence”—Encaustic and mixed media on panel 120.5-by-96-inch

“I couldn’t help but think of how our humanity and sense of benevolence can create something so beautiful out of tragedy as I attempted to tap into the feeling of hope rising to the surface.”

“Rock Salt” was inspired by a moment in time when Hazlett noticed how storekeepers had laid out turquoise colored rock salt to melt the snow on the sidewalks in front of their stores.

Four 48-by-48-inch pieces are positioned together to convey the centrifugal force of water, the sense of water churning, the vortex or whirling mass of water that sucks everything towards its center.

“This reflects more than the physicality of water to reflect parallels with life,” Hazlett said.

And a set of five 12-by-16-inch works offer whimsical oblique references to water as they remind viewers how their childhoods may have been engaged with water through skipping stones, blowing bubbles and running through sprinklers.

Hazlett must plan her paintings months before she picks up a paintbrush as she contracts with a local cabinetmaker to create panels, or cradles, for the paintings. Large pieces must be braced with aluminum bars.

“I’m very proud of this body of work,” said Hazlett, who works by day as a financial advisor. “It took an immense amount of work—right down to 20 hours in the studio on New Year’s Day. But, if art is truly a passion, it involves sacrifice.”

Accompanying the exhibition is an online catalog available through the Gail Severn Gallery website at


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