Calculated Risks

Clark Richert's paintings stay on the cutting edge at Rule.

Richert calls the print, together with the six paintings here, the "Wo-Wa-Wo Series." Don't ask. Richert's liable to tell you, and only if you're lucky or you're a physicist will you understand half of it. Suffice it to say that the first "Wo" stands for Woodman, Richert's old painting mentor from CU; the "Wa" stands for Burt Wadman, a physicist with an early interest in fractals; and the second "Wo" is for an experimental filmmaker named Fred Worden. All of the paintings have references to Woodman, Wadman and Worden, but Woodman's influence predominates, as it always has.

Sometimes the order in which a series of works is made is irrelevant. Not so with this show, according to Richert, who says each painting is an outgrowth of the one done before it, leading all the way back to virtual Drop City. I would argue that all of the work goes back to Drop City itself. Nonetheless, the paintings don't so much represent a progression of ideas as they reveal a major aesthetic shift about midway through.

The first piece is "Central Core of the Densely Packed," an impressive acrylic-on-canvas painting that received a lot of attention at the show's opening and was sold that same night. In it, Richert has arranged elaborate volumetric forms into non-repeating patterns. The patterns are rendered from different perspectives, at once illustrating them from different sides. But Richert also bends the patterns so that they appear to be three-dimensional and receding into space. Richert has often created rectangular passages in his paintings that appear to be right at the surface of the picture plane, thus exaggerating the constructed illusion of three-dimensional space seen all around it. In this one, the flat section is black, with a pattern of dots connected by lines making a schematic model of the non-repetitive forms he uses in the rest of the painting.

"Central Core of the Densely Packed," by Clark Richert, acrylic on canvas.
"Central Core of the Densely Packed," by Clark Richert, acrylic on canvas.
"Magic Tet," acrylic on canvas.
"Magic Tet," acrylic on canvas.

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Through January 11, 303-777-9473
Rule Gallery, 111 Broadway

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"Central Core" is radically different from the rest of the paintings in the series. It's boldly colored and seems very warm, which is odd, since it consists of mostly cool blues. It must be the intensity of the yellow and orange that have been used as a counterpoint that overwhelms the recessive blue.

The next two paintings, "Triacon Shadowing" and "T - O Table," are both dark blue and recall the work that Richert did in the late 1990s. In both, Richert illustrates a three-dimensional space defined by grids, but only in "T - O Table," which concerns the Periodic Table of Elements, is the grid visible.

Believe it or not, Richert connects "T - O Table" to two of the remaining paintings, "H - AR Periods" and "LA - AC Periods," because all three feature a little colored-square grid that Richert calls a "logo." But aside from the logo, "H - AR Periods" and "LA - AC Periods" are obviously more connected to one another and more connected to the final tour de force, "Magic Tet." All three are gray color-field paintings in which Richert has placed a variety of different geometric constructions arrayed in an elaborate composition that is asymmetrical and only tenuously balanced.

The three gray paintings are the most minimal things Richert has ever done. Vast areas of the paintings are done in the same flat color, though drips and runs create visual variety.

Richert has done some unexpected things in the "Wo-Wa-Wo Series" -- unexpected coming from him, anyway. For instance, while he determined his color choices using his usual formulas, which he followed to the letter, he also chose some colors just because he thought they looked good. What a concept! "It's something I learned from my students, who use colors courageously," he says. (As head of the painting department at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, Richert has a number of former students who have made their own reputations, notably Bruce Price, Jason Hoelscher and Mary Ehren. Also among his protegés are two of this year's hottest young talents, John Morrison and Karen McClanahan.)

Even weirder -- for Richert anyway -- was that he made arbitrary compositional choices. In each of the paintings, there's an element that doesn't follow the program as expressed in the rest of the work. Richert says these unusual passages are meant to remind him of his next planned series, in which both the arbitrary and automatic choices in color and shape will be more pronounced.

I had the opportunity to tour the show with Richert last week, and he elaborately described every part of each painting. He talked about "tessellations" and "fifth-dimensional cubes," about this theorem and that postulate. And I didn't understand a word of it. Luckily, that doesn't really matter, because the paintings have visual appeal independent of all of those mathematical underpinnings.

Richert has not been the subject of a solo show since 1997, when he presented his work at the Arvada Center. Thus the Rule show is a rare opportunity to see his mastery. It is clearly one of the best and most important art shows mounted thus far this fall -- and that's really saying something this season.

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