by Richard Speer
The question “Is it science or art?” is both redundant and moot for Seattle-based painter Jaq Chartier. In her work, science and art merge in a kind of mutual commentary, grounded in the artist’s exacting trials and tests. Her compositions offer smears and stains atop off-white planes, viral-looking shapes weeping and bubbling up in extravagant DayGlo colors: fuchsias upon acid greens upon turquoise, blood-orange into canary yellow, flowing into each other with fuzzy, Rothko-esque transitions. Rarely have de-facto science experiments exuded such panache.
Chartier painted seascapes and still lifes as a child and young adult in Palmer, Massachusetts. In college at Syracuse University and the University of Massachusetts, she considered becoming a filmmaker, but the siren-song of painting would not leave her. Eventually she made her way west to Seattle, where she earned her MFA from the University of Washington, and where she still lives. It was in 1997, while freelancing as a technical instructor for Golden Paints, that Chartier had her “Eureka!” moment. In the midst of preparing color and finish comparisons between various paints, she found herself gripped by the idea of turning the tests into actual paintings, in which she could compare and contrast, side-by-side, the interactions between materials as they reacted to one another and to outside forces. It was a fascination, if not an obsession, that has endured to the present day.
As the artist continued to evolve this process, she introduced the element of stains to her compositions—furniture and fabric dyes, science stains, “basically any stain I could get my hands on”—and found that when she overlaid the stains with gesso, spray paint, or acrylics, the resulting forms resembled the gel electrophoresis slides used in genetic testing. Despite this strong visual parity, Chartier has always maintained that the work is not about DNA testing per se. Rather, “it’s that I’m using the creative processes in both painting and science as metaphors for one another: for curiosity and exploring and documenting the natural world with a sense of wonder.”
The latest wrinkle in her approach, which she likens to an ongoing research project, is a series called Sun Test, in which she notes the degree to which sun exposure affects the continuing mutation of paint and stains. She’s energized by the prospect of collectors agreeing to record the action of sunlight on their paintings: blues gradually veering into greens, some stains slowly fading, others brightening. It’s a fairly radical idea, turning collectors into collaborators, but Chartier relishes the notion of interactivity between a painting, its creator, and its owner.
Developing this series and others keeps her busy; she averages three solo shows per year at galleries including Elizabeth Leach (Portland, OR), Haines Gallery (San Francisco, CA), and Platform Gallery (Seattle, WA). Along with her husband, photographer Dirk Park, she also runs the Aqua Art Miami Fair, which the two founded in 2005 and which has since grown in both scale and import. Juggling these and other responsibilities, the artist says, is no easy task. “The rest of my life outside painting is basically about getting things done in an efficient way, so that I can get back to work in the studio.”