In recent years, the term Flow Painting has come to denote the work of a highly variegated group of process painters who balance action and restraint, intuition and conscious intent. Pulling from traditions of abstract "pour painting" that trace back to Helen Frankenthaler, such artists typically employ thinned paint, and they allow it to do what paint does naturally, which is to puddle, coalesce and break apart – just as earth and water do in temblors, volcanoes, ice flows and floods.
In this realm, Shirely Hazlett has made significant strides since earning an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) in 2011. When I first encountered Hazlett a few years back, she was making acrylic-on-Mylar paintings in a pale, monochromatic palette. She wanted them to glow, and they did, but not as radiantly as she envisioned. So she began experimenting with substrate “sandwiches” (made of silk, wood, Mylar and polyethylene) and with different combinations of media (acrylic paint and ink and metal interference powders).
Chance Encounters is a record of those experiments. Many of the paintings on view do little more than demonstrate her skills as a colorist. Others push closer to her goal of getting paint to evince a different kind of luminosity. The most impressive — two narrow, silk-on-polyethylene scrolls that measure about 5 feet in height — suggest clouds, lakes and salt ponds viewed from a high elevation. In them, powdered metals mix with acrylic pigments to create reflective pools, while elsewhere rivers of thinned, poured paint give off the feeling of being lit from within. The feeling comes from the layering of substrates, which allows light to bounce off the wall and effectively backlight the compositions.
Hazlett cites Jeremy Morgan, Gregg Renfrow and Nellie King Solomon as a key influences, and you can see traces of each in her works: Morgan in the gauzy Asian atmospherics; Renfrow in the Minimalist/Light and Space aura; and Solomon in the slightly toxic gleam that emanates from Hazlett’s hot colors and metallic pigments.
Straddling the spiritual, the perceptual and the environmental, Hazlett’s opened up promising options. It will be worthwhile to watch how she pursues them going forward.
–DAVID M. ROTH
Shirley Hazlett "Chance Encounters" @ Axis Gallery through September 30, 2012.