For The Love Of Art

Artist manipulates materials to make something new

By Jessica Laskey
January 2024

Shirley Hazlett’s excitement is palpable. As she leads me around her studio in a building off Sutterville Road, she explains her artmaking process. Drip, pour, lift, roll, curl, glue. She runs her hands over her paintings and points out areas of interest. Clearly, Hazlett loves making art.

“Making art is an interaction with myself, the media and the substrate,” she says. “It’s about setting parameters but never being able to predict what’s going to happen.”

The Bay Area native began her art love affair early on when she saved up her allowance to buy a Brownie Starflash camera at age 7 and appointed herself family photographer.

As a teen, she moved to textiles. She was enamored of buttonhole silk thread, which is perhaps why she was drawn to the material as an adult. She pioneered a new substrate material made of silk adhered to plastic while acquiring a master’s degree at San Francisco Art Institute.

“Silk has a masculine and feminine duality,” she says, rubbing a strip between her fingers. “I love the excitement and the challenge of working with typical materials in atypical ways.”

Though Hazlett is an accomplished watercolorist, she was inspired to experiment with translucent silk organza—a common wedding dress material—and acrylic paint during her studies.

She developed a labor-intensive process of gluing silk on top of plastic, a process that can take up to two weeks to complete. The skill became the basis of much of her current work, including her 2023 series “Embrace.”

Pieces from the series are hung around her white-walled studio as part of her participation in Sac Open Studios. The paintings are large, colorful, emotive works that feature paint poured and dripped in layers to form circles—circles that, to Hazlett, represent our need to come together and “be whole again.”

“There’s a lot of chaos in the world and I sense it now more than ever,” says Hazlett, who lives near her studio in Land Park. “These abstract forms are calming to me and hopefully to others.”

Another part of Hazlett’s calming routine emerged during the pandemic. She took up the Appalachian dulcimer, a stringed instrument related to the zither.

“I have no idea why it popped into my head,” Hazlett says. “I thought, what can I do that’s new and different? And I thought of the dulcimer. I started looking for online lessons and found Dusty Thorburn, an amazing player and teacher who actually only lives about a mile away.”

Hazlett is always up for a challenge. She holds dual bachelor’s degrees from Sacramento State, and a Ph.D. from University of Oregon, plus her master’s. She’s taught at Sac State, served as an art judge for various state and county fairs, and was a longtime board member of the Creative Arts League of Sacramento.

She has exhibited all over the state, plus British Columbia and Oregon. Her work graced the walls of the Crocker Art Museum, Axis Gallery, ARTHOUSE on R, Shimo Center for the Arts and Sacramento Temporary Contemporary, among others.

Her work is also installed around the city. Hazlett primarily sells through art consultants, who often want to place her peaceful pieces in medical buildings.

As for what’s next, Hazlett smiles and shrugs.

“I’m curious myself,” she says. “I like to work very experimentally, so my art continues to evolve and change. I like the element of surprise. I give myself a set of limitations—the size of the paper, which pigments I use—and then I have to be very open to whatever develops.”

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Jessica Laskey can be reached at Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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