Ethereal material: Grant and Tarbell catch the drift

Rob Tarbell, "Alinga Sister Balance Hold."
Rob Tarbell, "Alinga Sister Balance Hold 2."

If you're counting the days to Halloween, eager for the chance to immerse yourself in creepiness, here's a suggestion: head to Les Yeux du Monde and spend a few minutes staring at John Grant's digitally mirrored photographs, "The Medium," "Water Born," and "Facing East."

Eerie enough to induce nightmares, these three images are part of Grant's latest body of work, which is premiering in Les Yeux du Monde's four-artist exhibition, "Medium and Mystery: Gasman, Grant, Iliescu, and Tarbell." Gallery owner Lyn Warren curated the show to highlight artists who use unconventional materials–-e.g., staples, aluminum, and smoke–-to create their visions. Although Sanda Iliescu's cut-paper compositions and Lydia Gasman's textured paintings add color, it's Grant's photographs and Rob Tarbell's smoke works that provide fuel for the show's fire.

Grant's black-and-white abstracts offer a departure from his previous, flower-centered color work. After noticing the way ink dispersed when dropped into a vase of water, he began shooting extreme close-ups of this process, capturing the pigment as it shifted through translucent shapes and unfurled in graceful arcs and lines on its way to the bottom. The resulting images look less like photographs and more like etchings or monotypes.

The photos take a turn for the weird, though, when Grant experiments with digitally reversing the images and pairing the near-twins. Disturbing faces suddenly emerge, along with other ghostly imagery. Uncanny as these digital compositions may be, Grant's more direct shots, especially "Swimmer," are artistically stronger and less gimmicky.

Grant also presents a brief stop-motion video, The Language of Water, edited from over 800 stills. Although the soundtrack smacks of a De Beer's diamond commercial ("You'd marry her all over again"), the visuals allow the viewer to experience the ink's thrall as Grant is creating his images.

The edged-with-chaos wispiness of Rob Tarbell's smoke work complements Grant's fluidity. The seven pieces displayed reflect Tarbell's refinement of his technique even while maintaining its spontaneous energy. To create the stunning "Alinga Sister Balance Hold 2," in which two women arch backwards, clasping hands, as they stand on the back of a horse that appears about to gallop out of the page, Tarbell burned slides of previous work, resulting in surprising texture and a metallic sheen. Tarbell's masterful way of melding positive and negative space is also jaw dropping.

Haunting and beautiful, Grant and Tarbell's work momentarily controls the uncontrollable (and then lets it go).

"Medium and Mystery: Gasman, Grant, Iliescu, and Tarbell" is on view through October 10 at Les Yeux du Monde, 841 Wolf Trap Road. 973-5566.

1 comment

Great review for two of our finest artists!