It's a moment that takes the breath out of your lungs: the "Eureka!" when landscape painters first realize they don't need the landscape any more. How many color-field painters started out in landscape, only to realize that the geometry of geology and atmosphere are enough to sustain development without the burden of subject matter forever pulling them back to the literal?
Ian Boyden, now showing at Augen, is not a color-field painter, but he has experienced the same epiphany. The painter, son of renowned artist Frank Boyden, has at least for now left behind the wind-swept Eastern Washington vistas that inspired his earlier work, instead applying his techniques in the service of simple, primal patterns informed by his study of calligraphy. In the past, his seep-and-weep, watercolorlike washes of ink on paper branched into trees and forests; now he stops the migrations short, such that they evoke long, abstracted feathers with irregular circles as sunlike accents.
The works come across as petroglyphic, their Native American ambience complemented by quasi-mystical and overlong titles. "Chaos Gathers Matter from the Light and Dark for the First Meeting with the Ruler of the Southern Ocean" is an 8-foot-tall manifesto of Boyden's current style: alchemical black, white and red vertically bisecting the plane, a crimson feather spurting upward like a fountain of blood. "Trees Send Down Ambassador Roots..." makes a slightly different statement in black, white and yellow. Other accent colors include mint, forest and light blue.
These colors are noteworthy in and of themselves, because they come not from store-bought paints but from semiprecious stones, which the artist himself grinds down and mixes into custom pigments. The whites come from freshwater pearls, reds from cinnabar, blues from azurite, greens from malachite. Black spinel and ink from cuttlefish (a squidlike mollusk) provide the velvety blacks that Boyden uses to make bold foreground gestures and misty backgrounds that recall the Shroud of Turin. The painter has superb compositional acuity and knows how to make a few quiet elements sing brightly and sweetly. This is an artist to watch.