by Kenneth Baker

Seattle painter Jaq Chartier elegantly handles a problem inherited from the modernist mainstream: how to give abstraction meaning without reference.

The problem lingers from the days when an ideological divide separated abstractionists and image-makers. Depiction disguised a painting's nature as a fabricated thing, practitioners of abstraction thought then. Imagery also ignored the etherealizing effect and spiritual implications that abstract work might evoke.

Chartier belongs to a generation that encountered abstract paintings first in representational media: slides and magazine and textbook illustrations. Reproduction turns abstractions into images, muddying distinctions between them that once seemed clear.

On display at Limn Gallery, Chartier's paintings resemble the bright striated or dotted patterns yielded by the laboratory technique known as DNA gel electrophoresis. That process involves injecting dye-coded DNA samples into a gel matrix and causing their components to separate by molecular weight, aided by electric current.

The paintings tell us nothing about the scientific process, though they do record an odd analogy between Chartier's technique, which involves dispersion of pigment stains, and the analytical procedure. The paintings speak to the largely unschooled public awareness of the science's aesthetic byproducts.

Chartier's pieces touch an unspoken popular confidence in the oracular powers of contemporary science. Credit their resemblance to stain patterns from DNA analysis, and we may see Chartier's paintings as fictional symbolic portraits of organisms. More parochially, her pictures update the stripe paintings of Kenneth Noland, mainstays of "post-painterly abstraction" on which formalist critics made their last stand in the late '60s.

Chartier's work also brings to mind the abstractions of Bay Area painter Tomas Nakada, which suggest magnified microbial stuff.

A certain redundancy already threatens to weaken Chartier's work from within, but she puts in the shade the eccentric, map-like paintings by Elizabeth Scheidl, also at Limn. Like Friedrich Hundertwasser, whose work hers recalls, Scheidl overestimates the interest of whimsical decisions.

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