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.
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.)
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.
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.
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, robischongallery.com.