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Turning formulas into art: Local artist gets solo exhibition
Wednesday, March 11, 2015


                Suzanne Hazlett doesn’t keep a sketchbook of ideas, as do many artists. She types formulas and protocol when the muse hits. When she gets to the studio she’s ready to work.

                Such due diligence caught the eye of Ketchum gallery owner Gail Severn two years ago. Severn visited Hazlett’s studio in Ketchum’s light industrial district several times over the past few years and in January offered Hazlett a solo exhibition.

                Hazlett will be on hand from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, March 13, as her exhibition “Material Possibilities” is unveiled during Gallery Walk. Her work will be up through April 30.

                “It isn’t often you find a new artist with the commitment and the level of sophistication in her work that Suzanne has,” Severn said. “Suzanne so thoroughly researches her various projects that you don’t even guess to the technical aspects of her paintings. You just revel in their beauty.”

                Hazlett creates mixed media paintings of an earthen, organic nature. She layers up to 30 layers of Italian marble plaster, clay, beeswax, pigments and glazes on furniture-quality custom-built birch panels with braces that she designed for durability.

                She started these large-scale productions just 10 years ago, after multiple careers which included serving as a physician’s assistant, x-ray technician and researcher at the University of Washington where she synthesized the DNA of bacteria, before returning to pursue a Master in Business Administration and going into wealth management.

“I’ve always been creative—my minor course of study in college was in art history,” said Hazlett, who majored in biology at University of Puget Sound in Washington.

“When I became serious about doing art, I began looking for artists’ work I admired. I would then contact the artists and ask them if they would provide private workshops,” added Hazlett, who has journeyed as far as Kingston, N.Y., and Salem, Mass., to study at the feet of those artists. With my understanding of ancient artists, I became intrigued with working with Italian marble plaster. The ancient Greek artists would paint marble statues with pigmented wax to protect and add ornamentation.”

Hazlett typically heads to the studio at 4 or 5 in the morning when her creative energies can flow in the quiet. Come 7:30, she’s headed for the shower and her other job as a financial planner in wealth management.

                She imports Italian marble plaster in five gallon buckets, going through as many as 30 gallons in two months. To this she layers naturally produced wax, to which she’s added crystals from the sap of fir trees to harden the wax and make it more durable.

She infuses the wax into the plaster with the help of a torch. The wax integrating with the plaster changes the plaster’s paler hue, giving it a deep vibrancy. Each piece contains 20 to 30 layers, meaning each takes at least a month to create each work in order to allow each layer to dry before she adds the next.

She tops each piece with oil glazes.

“All the media I work with come from nature,” she said. “The natural ingredients are more attractive to me than using acrylics or synthetics--I love that they come from the earth. I love the luminous quality of encaustic paintings. Some have an obfuscation to them, a mystery to them—like you experience with fog.”

                While her paintings seem effortless, they are not. To illustrate, Hazlett produces a box containing dozens of small inexpensive panels that she has experimented on to get the depth she wants before she ever tackles the larger pieces.

“I need to anticipate what something’s going to look like or I will be surprised,” said Hazlett, who occasionally resorts to scraping or sanding off layers when she is not pleased with the effect.

Many of Hazlett’s works are inspired by the nature around us.

Her “Eclipse,” a work featuring 20 panels, was inspired by a recent lunar eclipse.

“We had good visibility so people were staying up late and getting up early to see it,” she said of the panels, which evoke light as if seen through wispy clouds.

                “Deluge” was inspired by avalanches—Hazlett and her husband Chuck Rumpf used to climb Mt. Rainier and other mountains and are quite familiar with the aftermath of one of nature’s most ferocious forces.

“Freshly Fallen,” a mostly white work with a dark top, was inspired by winter’s first snowfall.

Others are inspired by such things as urban sidewalks.

“I’ve been told I can find beauty in a sidewalk, and it’s true. To me they never appear to be just  pale grey. The concrete takes on a patina due to the pigment in the soil beside it and I think the result it creates is beautiful. I can even look at the dirty snow lining our streets right now and see exquisite beauty and light in the snow and ice that’s there.”

She paused.

“Sometimes we look at the tarnish on a surface and, if we looked at things another way, we’d see the beauty. If we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change. We all see the dirty sidewalk, but we don’t all see the beauty.”

                Hazlett’s work has impressed her fellow artists.

“The atmospheric quality she achieves is remarkable,” said Judith Kindler, a nationally acclaimed artist who works in encaustic herself. “Her mastery over these natural materials allows her to manifest a feeling of nature, emotion and contemplation at once in her work that one viscerally responds to.”

Painter Christine Warjone concurred: “Suzanne has a unique gift to take ordinary mediums and bring them together in an extraordinary way. Her use of organic materials in 30-plus layers produces a symphony for the eye. The depth she can attain in her finished work is incredible. Her use of color and texture to produce this amazing ethereal weightlessness on board is beyond description. You really have to see her work to get the full gravity of what she can accomplish, as photos do not do her work justice.”

                Hazlett, who co-founded the Wood River Valley Studio Tour to promote the area’s arts community, is getting ready to create two 10-by-8-foot works.

It’ll be a challenge, considering there are only two places in her studio she can hang those works.  She’ll do her painting on the floor and use pulleys to hang the paintings periodically to allow her to gain perspective on them during the process of creation.

“There is a demand for work that large,” she said. “Smaller paintings can be lost on walls that run a couple stories high.”

Right now, however, her attention is turned toward her exhibition. She found herself shedding a few tears--of joy--as she saw watched workers hang her first piece on the walls at Gail Severn Gallery.

“To have my work featured where the work of so many great artists, like Ted Waddell and Judith Kindler, have been featured is exciting,” she said. “I’m excited, but it’s a little surreal.”

Check out Eye On Sun Valley's new Community Arts page.

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