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Crystal Hazen likes to let her work do the talking for her

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FARMINGTON — Art isn't just a means of creative expression for Crystal Hazen. It also is a pursuit through which she has learned to deal with her dyslexia, a disorder that inhibits a person's ability to process written language.

Dyslexia kept her from doing well in school, Hazen said, but the act of creating art has allowed her to develop a more effective process for studying a given subject and developing a thorough understanding of it.

"My art is my way of learning and retaining," she said.

Hazen acknowledges that describing her art doesn't come easily for her, so she tends to let her work do her talking for her. By that measure, she has a lot to say in her new exhibition "Past and Present" opening tonight at the Henderson Fine Arts Center Art Gallery on the San Juan College campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington.

The show features more than a dozen pieces, most of which are sizable. Hazen works in mixed media, and the exhibition ranges from acrylic paintings and sculptures to multiple-panel, three-dimensional paintings and modified found objects, typically featuring bold colors. Into that creative gumbo, Hazen also tosses a fair amount of social commentary, leaving plenty for the viewer to ponder.

The exhibition is a representation of Hazen's work over the last 10 years, and this marks the first time the artist has displayed her work outside of a group setting.

"I've done a lot of shows over the years, but I've never done one where they gave me the whole room, so I'm a little nervous about it," she said Thursday at the gallery while preparing for the show.

Hazen likes to explore such themes as nature and history in her work. The former is typified in such pieces as "Ponder," a two-panel, three-dimensional painting of koi, while the latter is explored in "Paris" and in a five-panel collection of paintings that cover the history of art from the days of cavemen to the present.

But she's just as likely to unlock the creative possibilities of such found objects as a pair of chairs and a wooden utility spool as she does with "Sunflower and Coffee" or the junk mail she recycles into the sculpture "American Hottie."

She's come a long way since her beginnings as an artist, when she tried her best to simply shadow her gifted older sister, Hazen said.

"It's evolved a lot," she said of her work. "I've learned a lot. … I'm always experimenting with different mediums. I started out with flat canvases and acrylics, but now I do three dimensions with pieces that come out at you."

Hazen also likes to contribute distinctive pieces for community organizations, including local public safety agencies, the San Juan Center for Independence and Identity Inc., the Farmington based nonprofit group that serves the interests of the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered population. Hazen has repainted a newspaper box into a tribute to the organization for the show.

She drifts toward pieces that represent nature when she's in a happy mood, Hazen said, but the "Identity Inc." piece is the kind of work she finds herself doing when she's of a mind to learn about a specific issue or event and wants to retain what her studies have yielded.

So far, she said, she hasn't drawn any negative feedback for any of her work that is heavy on social commentary, but she understands it's only a matter of time before that happens.

"Everybody has their own opinion, and not everybody will see the world the same way," she said.

Hazen is keeping her expectations simple for the reaction of viewers to her first solo exhibition.

"Just that they enjoy it — and I hope it inspires them," she said.

An opening reception for Hazen's show will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. today at the gallery. The exhibition remains on display through June 22. Call 505-566-3464.

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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