Dolby Chadwick Gallery is pleased to announce In Solution, an exhibition of new work by Jaq Chartier, on view from May 3 to June 2. Chartier’s works engage the materiality of her chosen media, highlighting the dynamic and extraordinary properties of different inks, dyes and stains, spray paints, and acrylic resins, as well as the often surprising ways they interact with one another.
The works featured in this exhibition are all part of Chartier’s ongoing Testing series. Each features vertical or horizontal bands populated with lines of color at varying intervals; in BG/Orange (9 Whites) (2018), for example, nine rows of fluctuating widths each contain a series of short, vertical strokes of colored dyes that move fluidly between blues, greens, ochres, and umbers, bleeding into one another and at times only announcing their presence through the faintest of impressions. The compositions are ordered and precise, possessing all the hallmarks of what could be described as a controlled scientific experiment, and yet they are also uncanny and electrifying. Their formal affinities to the basic building blocks of organic life—cellular structures, ladders of DNA—infuse them with a generative, life-giving potential energy. It is as if the marks could all of a sudden lift from the surface and coalesce into the fractal form of a leaf or a shell, or into a matrix of firing neurons. Chartier notes: “In the end I think I’m mostly trying to make something that looks like nature made it rather than a human being.”
Analog images from biology and microbiology, as well as those of other organic forms, serve as one of her primary influences. She also cites music, including the rhythmic beats of certain types of electronica, and a range of art historical sources, such as Agnes Martin’s Zen-inspired minimalism; Josef Albers’s investigations of color, form, and perception; Robert Irwin’s and James Turrell’s experiments with white and colored light; Karl Blossfeldt’s early 20th-century photographic studies of organic matter, and the work of scientist-artists active in the early days of photography, among others. She additionally maintains a special interest in the abstract artist Thomas Nozkowski, who tirelessly invents variations within a narrow range of options.
Chartier’s process invariably starts with a plan, though one she’s not beholden to: “I think of it as setting the stage for my actors (the materials) to perform within, or as a kind of scaffolding. I look for a simple modernist structure that will hold things together in an interesting way compositionally, but also leave room for improvisation once things are underway.” To make her works, she applies different ink formulations to the surface of a wood panel, which she first custom gessoes and sands to a smooth finish. After the inks dry, she adds layers of different white spray paints and acrylic. In the final steps of the process, the resultant bleeding produces exquisite and often unpredictable staining, wherein the marks take on an ethereal, almost luminous quality. She likens the drying process to waiting for a polaroid to develop, and the attendant sense of mystery and anticipation it triggers.
The act of waiting and, by proxy, themes of time and change are also central to her work in other ways. Because a commitment to testing and experimentation is the driving force behind her practice, it is easy to view each work as an immutable record of a given test’s outcome—a moment frozen in time, like “bugs in amber.” In reality, the works are “slow-motion performances changing imperceptibly over time as the materials continue to interact.” Chartier is a master color mixer and has both an advanced technical and intuitive understanding of how color operates. Thus, although she cannot always anticipate the exact course they will take as they metamorphose, her colors don’t deteriorate or sour but rather harmoniously play on, slowly advancing from one note to the next as if part of an infinite musical score. As color is her first love, she is constantly mixing new formulas that behave in complex and unforeseen ways, thereby keeping her perpetually engaged in the process of creation.
Chartier has always been fascinated by materials and emphasized experimentation in her own work. An opportunity to teach a series of workshops for an acrylic company, however, prompted a fateful shift in her perception when, one day, she saw one of her visual sample boards—created to demonstrate the material’s properties—as art in and of itself. At the time, her own work was informed by a modernist grid—inspired, in part, by images of gel electrophoresis (a method for separating and analyzing macromolecules), which feature a grid layout and notations. As such, the marriage of the formal processes of scientific study and of fine art was not far afield. Science and art, in general, are not far afield in that both scientists and artists negotiate daily between the known and the unknown, and are comfortable occupying that uncertain space where the payoff of discovery is potentially right around the corner. “We each use our own specialized processes as entry points to explore our little pieces of the world,” Chartier observes. “And when we’re lucky, we find more than we set out to.”
Jaq Chartier earned a BFA in painting from the University of Massachusetts in 1984 and an MFA in painting from the University of Washington in 1994. Her work has been exhibited in museums across the United States and Europe, including at the Bellevue Art Museum; the Berkeley Art Museum; the Frye Art Museum, Seattle; Kunsthaus Center d’art, Biel/Bienne, Switzerland; Kunstmuseum, Ahlen, Germany; the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Arts; the Seattle Art Museum; the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art; the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; and Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Switzerland. She has been reviewed in Art in America, Art NEWS, Artforum, artnet.com, New York Observer, San Francisco Chronicle, and Village Voice.