Culture- ART FEATURE- Creative evolution: Watching two artists push forward

One benefit of living in a place as small as Charlottesville is practically being able to look over the shoulders of local artists as they work through visual problems and take tried-and-true ideas in new directions. Painter Rob Tarbell and ceramicist Rebekah Wostrel are two artists whose evident evolutions spice up their current exhibitions at Piedmont Virginia Community College.

Tarbell's last Charlottesville show, in 2004, offered oil-on-paper abstractions of birds swooping across color-washed backgrounds. The first three pieces in his new body of work, "Birding," hanging in PVCC's North Gallery, fall in line with those earlier pieces, although the textured layers have become more colorful and intricate.

The remainder of the current exhibition, however, reveals Tarbell's progression through ideas he was just starting to explore in 2004. His multi-media efforts to abstract further the fleeting gesture of birds in flight— what he calls the "fugitive moment"— incorporate layered nylon, frames within frames, collage, and even smoke. His central marks, whether painted or created with ribbon-like cutouts from past works, move closer to calligraphy and farther away from their literal reference.

Some of Tarbell's experiments are less successful than others. The combination of collage and drawing in "Let's All Ride Me Down" feels awkwardly cobbled together, while the varnished nylon of "Dirty Birds Get Busy on the Berries," results in pus-like yellows.

Tarbell is strongest when he's most minimal, paring everything away but an elusive monochromatic mark. In the evocative "Birding Smoke Aether," he uses actual smoke to create a wraithlike transience. 

In the South Gallery, Rebekah Wostrel's porcelain pieces, enhanced with bits of fuzz and fluff, advance ideas she premiered locally in the McGuffey Art Center's 2005 "New Members' Show." Interested in the interplay of opposites— concave vs. convex, brittle vs. soft, embellished vs. bare— she gets surprising mileage out of her pristine wall-mounted discs. 

In her new work, Wostrel pushes her yin-yang considerations in a more explicit direction by subtly sexualizing several pieces. It may be hard to believe that a small round of porcelain without illustration can be simultaneously humorous, erotic, and disturbing, but this is exactly the effect Wostrel accomplishes.

In "Outty," a glazed white disc dips toward an interior matte circle, where a mound of fuzz bulges from a squared cavity with dimpled corners. The piece is beautiful and balanced yet funny and slightly naughty.

Watching Tarbell and Wostrel's art evolve gives new meaning to "intelligent design."

Rob Tarbell's exhibition, "Birding," and Rebekah Wostrel's contributions to the show "Three Visions," which also features work by Jeffrey Allison and Colin Ferguson, are on display at Piedmont Virginia Community College through October 5. V Earl Dickinson Building. 961-5203.