Dolby Chadwick Gallery is pleased to announce its first exhibition of paintings by the Seattle-based artist Jaq Chartier. A Fever in Matter features colorful abstract works made in Chartier’s signature Testing style and inspired by Lewis Wolberg’s book, Micro-Art: Art Images in a Hidden World. In one of the book’s essays Brian O’Doherty writes:
… the understanding of crystal structure in terms of mathematics (that is, logic) confirmed a schism in matter - between the organic and the inorganic. Life could be seen as an inexplicable vitalism on the one hand, and on the other a delusion within the inorganic, or, as it has been called, a fever in matter.
Chartier’s paintings—matter, vitalized—are the result, not of romantic or expressionist ecstasy, but orderly, almost scientific investigations into the properties of color. In this sense, they continue the color-optics explorations of Josef Albers’ famous Homage to the Square oil paintings on panel, compositionally simple yet radiant works composed of three or four squares, variously colored and unmodulated, with their overlapping arrangements implying portals and corridors seen in perspective. Chartier:
I love exploring color and the interactions of the materials. The paintings are stripped down to very specific rules; each painting must be an actual test of some kind, and every element has to be there for a reason which supports the test.
If Albers appended his notations on colors and varnishes to the backs of panels, Chartier includes notations right in the works; her method is transparent, and her results reproducible—verifiable. Her arrays of organic forms are drawn with an eye dropper and suggest the samples, tests and charts of the natural scientist in the field, while the white backgrounds behind her overlays of transparent color suggest illuminated microscope slides. In some works, dark-rimmed circles, like Petri dishes, black-rimmed yellow-orange scorch marks, and cellular honeycomb polygons replace the painterly arrays of color swatches; in others, the patterns coalesce into abstract imagery, evoking natural forces metaphorically or metonymically while remaining ambiguous and multivalent.
Chartier describes her minimalist Testing series, featuring arrays of dots connected by or enveloped by horizontal bands of color, reminiscent of illustrations of the stages of cell division, or rippling wavelets on sunlit water, with positive and negative reversed, as if solarized:
…each painting begins as an actual test. Inspired by scientific images like gel electrophoresis, they feature intimate views of materials reacting to each other, to light, and the passage of time. Instead of paint, I use my own complex formulas of deeply saturated inks, stains and dyes. Such colors can do things paint can't do – change, shift, and migrate through other layers of paint, or separate into component parts with differing properties. Whereas traditional artist paints are formulated to be stable and controllable, stains are capricious and easily affected by lots of factors like humidity, gravity, time, UV light – even the structure of molecules in the other elements they touch. After years of study I'm still intrigued by the hidden chemistries of these materials. I write notations directly on the paintings to help me track what’s happening in each test.
(DNA electrophoresis is a method of sorting DNA molecules electrically by length for purposes of diagnostic analysis. The negatively charged DNA is drawn to the positively charged part of the gel matrix in which they are suspended.) Chartier’s lyrical SubOptic series was similarly based on scientific methods, including X-rays of coral reef colonies that reveal their delicate internal structure, and which provided the artist a subject with which to tackle the daunting question of climate change. The Ultra Marine series depicted marine bio- and phytoplankton in simplified shapes and brilliant colors, with the angle of vision ranging from the microscopic, as in her depiction of blue polyps and rippling water, to the macroscopic, as in her painting from above, as if seen from a satellite, of Antarctica as a kind of coral atoll ringed by green—or protoplasmic superorganism. A Fever in Matter includes works from all three series, providing a synoptic overview of the artist’s interests and directions.
While Chartier’s approach appears empirical and scientific, her work’s electric color, graphic power and use of metaphor paradoxically produce poetic images reminiscent of such visionary artists as Vincent Van Gogh, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keefe, Charles Burchfield and Mark Tobey.
Chartier received her BFA in painting from the University of Massachusetts and MFA in painting from the University of Washington in 1994. Her work has been exhibited in museums across the country, including the Seattle Art Museum, San Jose ICA, Bellevue Art Museum, and the Palm Springs Desert Museum. She has been reviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle, Artweek, Art in America, New American Paintings, and Artforum.