Jaq Chartier: Sun Tests at Schroeder Romero, by Nick Stillman

From Jan van Eyck’s innovations with linseed oil to Robert Smithson’s landscape interventions to Matthew Barney’s fictional universe of mythical, genetically mutated weirdos, the concept of the artist/scientist is one with art-historical legs. That said, all art making could be considered a type of experimental science—a process of trial and error usually resulting in an end product with kinks effectively massaged. Not so with Jaq Chartier’s Sun Tests. Chartier works for Golden Artist Colors testing pigments, and this scientist background is evident in her show of paintings, which read more as lab-rat color testing sessions than “paintings” as such.

Jaq Chartier Color Chart/Sun Test, 2004, Jaq Chartier: Sun Tests at Schroeder Romero  by Nick Stillman, MINUS SPACE, Brooklyn 

Jaq Chartier
Color Chart/Sun Test, 2004
Acrylic, stains and paint on wood panel, 40 x 50 inches
Courtesy the artist and Schroeder Romero, Brooklyn

Chartier’s Sun Tests are meditations on the relationships between pigments and the natural effects on them when exposed to the sun and simply left to age. She applies stains and dyes of pigment to wood panel in either patterns of stripes or grids and layers them multiple times with coats of transparent acrylic, building a dense surface reminiscent of prosthetic skin. After extended sunlight exposure, the pigments settle into small circular fields. Much of this process is charted by faint handwritten notes (usually noting things like “Pol. Varnish Gloss II V X”) along the edge of the paintings and, occasionally, directly on its face. Thus the painting is not only the field of scientific exploration, it’s also the lab report.

Chartier clearly has a weakness for fluorescents, especially pink, and the vivid colors jump to the fore, especially when you relax you eyes on paintings like “Reaction RGB.” Reds and pinks pop in three dimensions ahead of blues, greens, and black, and the effect is like looking at spores through a microscope. “Color Test/Sun Chart” serves as the apotheosis of the show—a monumental color chart showing eight vertical strips of modulating colors, some bearing little resemblance to the adjacent pigments due to their deterioration and transformation from the sun’s light. It’s the definitive statement of Chartier the chemist, collecting data and filtering it back to the viewer aesthetically. “L. Hyacinth and Grey” is a gorgeous painting of 13 vertical, semi-transparent stripes—of a just slightly different hue than the painting’s ground—that pretty obviously read as test tubes. Enclosed within these thin beakers are several multi-colored circular stains of color. From afar, the painting depicts a scattershot grid. Up close, Chartier’s ceding of control to natural forces becomes apparent. Colors bleed, defying the grid, evincing that the Sun Tests are conceptually grounded in a lack of control—the essence of laboratory experimentation.

Jaq Chartier Winter/Spring/Summer/Fall, 2004, Jaq Chartier: Sun Tests at Schroeder Romero  by Nick Stillman, MINUS SPACE, Brooklyn 

Jaq Chartier
Winter/Spring/Summer/Fall, 2004
Acrylic, stains and paint on wood panels;
four panels, 11 x 11 inches each panel
Courtesy the artist and Schroeder Romero, Brooklyn

The four-panel suite “Winter/Spring/Summer/Fall” clarifies Chartier’s relationship to nature, which mirrors that of Andy Goldsworthy and 60s Earthworks artists. Each of the four paintings show more or less the same thing—a series of horizontal stripes of various colors, applied in what appears to be a duplicative manner across each of the four panels. After applying the pigments, Chartier allowed each of the four panels to bask in the sunlight of the season for exactly three months. The visual effects are relatively un-dramatic: an orange is a little less bright here than there, spring and fall are pretty similar, winter is slightly more vibrant. Really, the effects are psychological. What were the controls in the experiment? Did she apply exactly the same amount of pigment to each? Had the pigments aged different amounts before she used them? The questions remain unanswered, but “Winter/Spring/Summer/Fall” in an entrance point into Chartier’s alchemy, her working methodology of control vs. the willful lack of it. Chartier’s is largely work about work—data collecting and the creation of conditions that make for intriguing aging processes. Part scientist, part aesthete, Chartier could be considered the design coordinator of the Sun Tests, constructing the layout and order of pigment application. Then, like with the land artists she’s clearly indebted to, she leaves the rest to nature.


Nick Stillman is an artist and the Editor of NYFA Current, a publication of the New York Foundation for the Arts.