Colorado’s No. 1 con­tem­po­rary pain­ter has the mind of a scholar, the hand of an artist

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Ray Mark Ri­naldi

Let me quote my­self — and a whole lot of other peo­ple — in say­ing that Clark Richert is Colorado’s most im­por­tant con­tem­po­rary pain­ter. That makes it re­dun­dant, maybe, but still nec­es­sary, be­cause un­der­stand­ing Richert and his 50 years of con­tri­bu­tions to the art scene here is to un­der­stand what the life of an artist is and how much a sin­gle, in­ven­tive mind can im­pact the world around it.

I could go on about his his­toric role as a founder of Drop City, the ground­break­ing, 1960s artist com­mune in south­ern Colorado that gave foot­ing to the whole con­tem­po­rary move­ment in Den­ver, Boul­der and be­yond. Or about his work as a teacher at var­i­ous schools where he has in­spired a gen­er­a­tion-plus of other artists.

But Richert’s most im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion has been right where it should be, on can­vas, and that con­tin­ues to­day. He’s a re­lent­less ex­plorer of shape, pat­tern and color with an en­ter­tain­ing way of re­lat­ing those things to sci­ence and math. He paints geom­e­try, and physics and chem­istry — dread­ful top­ics, all of them, in my mind — but though the eyes of some­one who sees those things as en­tirely im­per­fect and mal­leable, de­spite their rea­soned and un-

yield­ing rules.

His cur­rent show at Gil­dar Gallery, ti­tled “Close Packed Struc­tures” speaks in a com­mon Clark Richert lan­guage. Pat­terns dom­i­nate his large, acrylic paint­ings, many of them six-feet square, and con­nect­ing tiny oc­tagons, tri­an­gles, cir­cles, squares and var­i­ous squig­gles into large and col­or­ful ab­stract as­sem­blages. It’s eye-pop­ping stuff.

These pieces are ar­ranged based on the­o­ries and equa­tions that Richert stud­ies and uses for vis­ual in­spi­ra­tion. The light re­frac­tion con­cepts of as­tronomer Jo­hannes Ke­pler be­come a se­ries of in­ter­con­nected pen­ta­gons, decagons and five-pointed stars, ren­dered in shades of turquoise, red and yel­low in “Ke­pler’s Slant.” For “Wit­ten’s Com­plex,” physi­cist Ed­ward Wit­ten’s equa­tions around struc­tural space are trans­lated as squares and rec­tan­gles linked to­gether to form cubes and spheres that come alive in yel­lows, or­anges, reds and blues. This re­duc­tion of ideas into geo­met­ric shapes links Richert to the great 20th cen­tury mod­ernists who saw the world in sim­i­lar right-an­gled ways, but his fas­ci­na­tion with sci­ence makes his paint­ings more grounded and pur­pose­ful. They may be what Ellsworth Kelly had painted — if Kelly had a Ph.D. from Stan­ford.

A viewer can go into a deep hole look­ing at the works and eval­u­at­ing the qual­i­fied for­mu­las be­hind them. There’s a cer­tain sort of ob­server — cu­ri­ous, pa­tient and to­tally geeked­out — who could spend a life­time check­ing their arith­metic and struc­tural sound­ness.

But that’s not the point, and that’s not the art here ei­ther. Richert may tap the mind of a scholar, but he uses the hand of an artist. He plays with pat­terns; stop­ping them and start­ing, over­lap­ping, al­ter­ing col­ors and place­ment. He uses ex­ist­ing in­tel­lec­tual no­tions, but trans­lates them into a set of vis­ual sym­bols we can re­late to, rather than the hard for­mu­las we know them to be. His art re­minds us that all of this study of what hu­mans are made of and how they see and un­der­stand the world, is de­vel­oped by, and de­rived from, a hu­man per­spec­tive. They go from cold to warm as you look at them.

Most of the work in “Close Packed Struc­tures” is cur­rent, though there is one re­mark­able piece from 1980 in the mix that pro­vides a real clue into Richert’s de­vel­op­ment as an artist. “Rhom­bic In­ver­sion” plays freely with one of the more com­plex geo­met­ric shapes out there, turn­ing a three-di­men­sional idea flat so it can be ex­plored on a can­vas. (If you want bet­ter com­pre­hend such rhombi as equi­lat­eral quadri­lat­er­als and do­dec­a­he­drons, Google them, and I’ll see you in a week or two.)

“Rhom­bic In­ver­sion” shows Richert, 36 years ago, al­ready into the habit of play­ing math­e­ma­ti­cian with his paint­brush. The paint­ing takes lib­er­ties with color and ar­range­ment, but it is strik­ingly ex­act. The pat­terns — and they in­volve thou­sands of lay­ered bits and pieces, all painstak­ingly recre­ated by hand — ap­pear to be rigid and pre­cise, with clearly de­fined lines and solid blocks of color. If there are er­rors or mis­takes or in­com­plete sec­tions, I can’t make them out.

But I do make out that those kinds of glitches in the works from 2016, pieces like “Cen­tral Core of the Densely Packed II” or “Cen­tral Core Cube.” Both in­ter­pret deep think­ing, but there is less of an ef­fort to be pre­cise, to fully fill in shad­ings or to recre­ate ex­actly what a re­searcher might view un­der a mi­cro­scope or through a tele­scope or what­ever de­vice helps them see things. Richert has al­ways let in the oc­ca­sional drip or missed con­nec­tion, but his ap­proach is freer now.

Maybe that is be­cause he’s older and his fin­gers are less steady, or maybe it’s be­cause he wants it that way; I re­ally don’t know. But it’s ev­i­dence of evo­lu­tion in the art and it’s ap­peal­ing. The work is softer, more ge­nial. Over the years, I’ve al­ways wanted to step back to see Richert’s work, to take in the pat­terns and ex­tract the sci­ence and ge­og­ra­phy from a dis­tance. But this new stuff does the op­po­site — it pulls me in, fo­cuses me on the parts rather than the whole, and the process over the prod­uct. It makes we want to touch.

And so here, in his late ca­reer (sorry Clark, that’s math, too), Richert gives us an­other con­tri­bu­tion, to see how art changes, and how per­spec­tive is honed and ex­pressed in dif­fer­ent, per­haps richer, ways as our bod­ies and minds ma­ture. I wish I could say it com­pletes some sort of cy­cle for him, al­lows him to slow down, but the op­po­site is true, it de­mands that he con­tinue paint­ing for years to come, so we can see what hap­pens next. When you’re a his­toric fig­ure, duty calls, whether you like it or not.

What makes a great artist? Rigor, plain and sim­ple. If you paint sci­ence, you paint sci­ence, again and again for decades and decades, and maybe, by putting all those paint­ings to­gether, you show us what sci­ence looks like.

Photo by Wes Mag­yar, pro­vided by Gil­dar Gallery

Clark Richert’s acrylic-on-can­vas in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the “Ke­pler Slant,” based on light re­frac­tion the­o­ries by the 17th cen­tury as­tronomer Jo­hannes Ke­pler. Richert’s ex­hi­bi­tion at the Gil­dar Gallery runs through Dec. 23.

Pro­vided by Gil­dar Gallery

Clark Richert turns sci­ence into art. This is his re­cent acrylic paint­ing “Wit­tens’ Com­plex.” The acrylic paint­ing is 70 inches square.

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