Review: Richard Carter Shines in Havu's Mandalas: Constructed and Deconstructed

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Aspen, along with the nearby towns of Snowmass, Carbondale, Woody Creek and Basalt, is one of Colorado’s centers for contemporary art. Although most of the artists in that community rarely show here, that’s starting to change. The latest example is Basalt’s Richard Carter, who has the lead role in Mandalas: Constructed and Deconstructed, now on view at the William Havu Gallery.

Carter moved to Colorado in 1971, a couple of years after he graduated from Villanova University. From 1972 to 1978, he worked as a studio assistant for Herbert Bayer, the legendary Aspen-based artist. The influence of the Bauhaus master is still apparent in Carter’s paintings at Havu, though it’s clear that Carter has developed a visual vocabulary that’s distinct from Bayer’s. Interestingly, Carter’s style could be described as both abstract and representational — even though there are no recognizable objects depicted.
The paintings have abstract compositions, with the formal elements arranged hierarchically, but the simple shapes he employs are crisply illustrated, as though they were real two- or three-dimensional constructs. Carter’s technique is remarkable; he applies pigments in extremely smooth coats within mathematically precise hard-edged margins. And if that weren’t enough of a virtuoso performance, he  adds delicate skeins of lines on the underlying color-field grounds.
The Mandalas exhibit also includes art by Amy Cheng, a Taiwanese-born painter based in New York, whose pieces have the same kind of bold formal presence as the Carters and work perfectly with them. Cheng uses small painted elements — dashes — that she organizes into graphic depictions of flowers or  geometric patterns evocative of flowers.

On display throughout the Carter and Cheng sections are elegant neo-modernist sculptures by Nebraska’s Chris Cassimatis. The sculptures are divided into two styles: neo-modernist forms done in carved travertine connected by hardware, and pieces that have the appearance of scientific instruments,  assemblages that include both carved stone and ready-made elements.
Finally, up on the mezzanine is a smart-looking solo, Susan Cooper. A well-known Colorado artist, Cooper is no stranger to working in monumental sizes and has done many public-art commissions. But the pieces here, oil paintings and bronze bas-reliefs, are absolutely intimate in size. Cooper’s long been a fan of translating early vanguard styles into contemporary expressions, but this latest batch of work suggests that she’s footnoting constructivism. Typically, she’s deconstructed images of buildings and furniture, especially chairs, but most of this group is non-objective.

The shows run through November 26 at William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street; for more information, call 303-893-2360 or go to williamhavugallery.com.

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