Art Hazelwood: Artist, Impresario, Instigator

Art Hazelwood is an artist with three hats: artist, impresario and instigator. The process of curating art historical shows, organizing artists’ estates, and intense involvement in community and political activism all fit comfortably with the creation of his own artwork. Artists may begin their creative life with noble intentions but often succumb to opportunistic distractions. Hazelwood is one printmaker who has not forsaken his private mission. 

Art Hazelwood's prints continue the proud tradition exemplified by Hogarth, Goya, Daumier, Posada and Grosz, of criticizing social ills and telling truth to power and to the powerless. Hazelwood says the medium's rich history of social and political commentary inspires him to constantly push the envelope, always striving for edgier pieces that enable others to make strong connections with the art and the messages it conveys. 

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Artist

Hazelwood’s artistic journey began with extensive travels throughout Asia, Europe, North Africa and the United States. An early work, Promenade: A Voyeur’s Guide to America (1989), is a series of 26 woodcuts that display Hazelwood’s initial interest in the human form, set against the background of the American landscape. The prints are wry but not pointed social commentary. 

He continued to work almost exclusively in woodcut throughout the 1990s. But starting in 2000 Hazelwood began to embrace a wider variety of media. He was invited to create a print project with Eastside Editions, a print publisher in San Francisco. Working at the press allowed him the opportunity to create mixed media etching and relief projects. Over the next several years he created three large-scale book projects. 

The most ambitious, Gargantua in the Vineyards (2001), is a large-scale accordion-fold book consisting of linocut over two etching plates. The overt content of this fifteen-foot panel focuses on a literary text, Rabelais’ Gargantua. But the presence of contemporary figures, such as soldiers, academics and bankers, gives an undertone of generalized social criticism. 

Hazelwood’s growing social and political concerns came into closer focus with the war in Iraq with his most politically pointed series of prints to date, Hubris Corpulentus, described as “a state of obscene, overweening pride that produces monstrous realities out of the stupor of irrationality.” This series of ten engravings is a sustained burst of satirical imagery.

Recently he has returned to the simple black and white technique of his early prints with an artists book, Into Iraq (2010),. The titles give a sense of the subjects: "Oil Flag," "Patriotic Tune," "Sacrifice of Liberty," "The President in His Labyrinth.” 

Art Hazelwood’s work finds audiences through a broad range of venues. His screenprints are on the street and in museums. His Bush impeachment poster was acquired by the Whitney Museum of American Art, and his work can be found regularly in support of homeless rights as well as in collections such as the New York Public Library, and the Library of Congress. 

Impresario

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After moving to San Francisco in the early 1990s, he began cataloging and organizing the artwork of a diverse range of printmakers and their estates. This led to the organizing of several retrospectives, including a large retrospective of William Wolff at the Hearst Art Gallery at St. Mary’s College in 2003. 

The knowledge gained from this work with individuals led to more curiosity about historical traditions. He began researching the history of relief prints in Northern California, which culminated in the 2009 show California in Relief, also at the Hearst Art Gallery. Broad influences from Japan, Europe and Mexico were presented as filtered through the woodcuts, linocuts and wood engravings of Northern California. Hazelwood wanted the show to be a primer for other printmakers to deepen their own links to the traditions surrounding them.

The exhibition, Hobos to Street People: Artists’ Responses to Homelessness from the New Deal to the Present  highlights the intersection of social justice and art history.Hazelwood brought together work by artists from the Depression, including Dorothea Lange, Jacob Burck, Richard V. Correll and Rockwell Kent, and paired them with contemporary artists such as Kiki Smith, Eric Drooker, and photographer David Bacon. The contrasting eras illuminate artistic, moral and political issues in a way that deepens understanding of both the Depression and the current era of ever rising homelessness. First shown at the California Historical Society in San Francisco, the exhibit is currently touring in California 

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Instigator

Hazelwood first began to create politically inspired artwork for the Street Sheet, the San Francisco newspaper about issues of homelessness. Working with this and other street papers Hazelwood found an outlet and sounding board for his prints that explored issues of poverty and economic injustice. The linocut “Trickle Down” is an example. It presents a pyramid with the large masses of people at the bottom and a smaller number of very large people on top. Coins dropping from the sky barely make it past those on top, leaving the rest with a trickle. “Corporate Cookie Jar,” from 2009, portrays a gigantic corporate CEO lifting the dome of the US Capitol building and reaching in for some goodies.

Moving further toward overt activism, since 2003 Hazelwood has worked to coordinate artwork for the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), a coalition of West Coast homeless rights groups. WRAP includes the use of artwork in its organizing to local organizations fight their own local struggles against demonization and marginalization of homeless people. Hazelwood has created several posters himself for the organization, including the Beast of Hate, a large creature whose body is made up of the different parts of society that attack poor people. The head is made up of corporate and political symbols, the belly – the media. 

By wearing three different hats Hazelwood has deepened his understanding of political issues, cultural history and the role of artists in society. In turn the role of impresario and instigator has deepened his artwork. 

 (From an article in Journal of the Print World)