Art Review

Four Solos Create a Beautiful Pattern at Robischon Gallery

Installation view of Barbara Takenaga: Manifold.
Installation view of Barbara Takenaga: Manifold. Courtesy of Robischon Gallery
No one else in town can put different artists together as adeptly and smoothly as Jennifer Doran. Co-director of Robischon Gallery with her husband, Jim Robischon, Doran is the eye behind the gallery's state-of-the-art exhibition design, including the current collection of four solos.

In the expansive front spaces is Barbara Takenaga: Manifold, comprising recent paintings by the New York-based artist. In a range of formats from small to monumental, these are all abstract but give off landscape vibes, or at least naturalistic ones. The palettes are severely constrained, with the boldest in deep shades of blue, but most of the pieces are done in black on silvery gray. This lends the work a dignified and contemplative air, and though Takenaga was born in Nebraska and does not self-consciously reference Japanese ancestry, many of her paintings — in particular the back and gray ones — also have something of an Asian mood.

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Barbara Takenaga's "Manifold 5."
Courtesy of Robischon Gallery
This is certainly the case with the show-stopping “Manifold 5,” a majestic mural that’s nearly twenty feet long. While you're looking at it, the painting definitely shifts from landscape to abstract and back. At first glance, you see a large, arching dark shape going across most of the length of the painting, sitting on, or maybe against, a shimmery gray ground. Looking closer, you see that both the dark shape and light ground are not monochromes, but have been built from marks and shapes and representational elements laid across a billowing web of lines. The most eccentric of these representational details are tiny conventionalized geysers or volcanos, arranged like the prints on fabrics. The piece is sensational, as is everything else in Takenaga’s show.

Though this is Takenaga’s debut solo at Robischon, she is well known around Denver, having exhibited in various venues, notably the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver; she earned a BFA and an MFA at the University of Colorado Boulder back in the 1970s, and taught for a time at the University of Denver in the 1980s. While she was studying in Boulder, the Criss-Cross movement, an early proponent of using patterns as compositional devices, was in full swing, and Takenaga's interest in pattern painting can be rooted in that context — though no one would mistake her work for that of a Criss-Cross member. (Coincidentally, the king of the Criss-Crossers, Clark Richert, is the subject of three shows now in the area: at MCA Denver, the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and the Ent Center in Colorado Springs.)

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Linda Fleming's "Swoop" (left) and a selection of her gouaches at Robischon Gallery.
Courtesy of Robischon Gallery
The second Robischon solo, Linda Fleming: Allusion, also has ties to the golden age of contemporary art in Colorado of a generation ago. Linda Fleming, who now divides her time between Colorado and California, was one of the founders of the Libre artist community in southern Colorado in the late ’60s. The pieces included at Robischon are closely related to the work seen last fall in Confluence, Fleming's major survey at the Ent Center, which was curated by Daisy McGowan. The show here includes a few new wall sculptures and a number of works on paper, both showing whiplash lines stacked on top of one another. Aside from their overall shapes, which are typically evocative of something like a leaf or a lock of hair, the sculptures and drawings resemble conventionalized webs.

Though the works on paper are engaging, surely the bigger draw are the wall reliefs in powder-coated steel. “Swoop,” made up of interwoven linear bars in black and shades of blue, is like an updated art nouveau wall grill. The reflections caught by the chrome plating used on “Gossamer” further loosen up the shape, which is already very open, as much void as solid.

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"SunTest #3," by Jaq Chartier.
Courtesy of Robischon Gallery
In the large back gallery, Jaq Chartier, a Seattle artist, has her Denver debut with Jaq Chartier: SunTests. The  pieces show dashes of color, stacked either vertically or horizontally, set against light-colored grounds. Chartier’s aesthetic evokes the mood of medical and forensic smear tests, or perhaps a decorator’s color-sample sheets; there are even penciled notations next to some of the colors. Furthering the idea that these are part of an ongoing aesthetic exploration with no firm conclusion — not unlike the scientific process — Chartier refers to the pieces as “tests” as opposed to works of art.

Her show includes two kinds of work: paintings and prints. I loved the immediacy of the little paintings, in which Chartier uses inks, dyes and spray paint, among other expressive pigments. The newest pieces are from her “SunTest” series, from which the show takes its name. These are dye sublimations on aluminum based on digitized images of specific paintings done by Chartier, with fugitive colors allowed to fade when exposed to sunlight. The digital process perfectly captures the illusion of a stroke of colored stain seen in the actual paintings hanging nearby. They’re super-sophisticated and extremely contemplative.

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Installation view of Alison Hall: Heirlooms.
Courtesy of Robischon Gallery
The quartet of offerings concludes in the viewing room with an intimate show of Alison Hall's sublime, mostly small abstractions. With Alison Hall: Heirlooms, Hall is making her first appearance in Denver. At first I thought these pristine paintings were essentially nothing more than perfectly proportioned rectangles covered in monochrome finishes of black or blue with utterly smooth surfaces built up with plaster and oil on the underlying panels. If that had been all they were, that would have been enough...but there’s much more to Hall’s paintings. Some have painted compositions, including a tremendously engaging grid with a regular pattern of little circles done in two closely aligned shades of blue; in another are roughly formed shapes. The painted patterns and shapes are very subtle, since Hall employs similar colors to create them. A more striking departure from the minimalist aesthetic of the monochromes are the pencil marks: As you walk by the paintings, light hits tiny reflective bits in the patterns of graphite strokes marking up the grounds.

Though modern artists like Ad Reinhardt or Agnes Martin come to mind, for the paint and the pencil, respectively, Hall notes that her sources also include artists from further back in history, in particular Giotto and Masolino. She's written about how moved she was by certain depictions of the Virgin she saw when she was in Italy, which she believes were based on the artists' mothers. Given the work's contemporary appearance, this Italianate aspect is completely unexpected, though one painting, the only monumental Hall in the show, hints at it. In the spectacular “Ancestral,” a pattern of graphite dashes that can barely be made out suggests a ghosted scene of a church interior.

The tissue that links the works of these four artists is their use of patterning. While none go in for the expected geometric abstraction and they each take a different route, the patterns in their pieces become part of a broader vocabulary of expressions. As presented at Robischon, their work is so sensitively interrelated, the four solos read as a beautifully focused group show.

Barbara Takenaga, Linda Fleming, Jaq Chartier and Alison Hall, through July 6 at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788,
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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia