CULTURE- ART FEATURE- Smoke and mirrors: Bana and Tarbell shift shapes

One dictate from my big book of made-up rules for reviewing local art: Don't give an artist ink more than once in 18 months. Spread the love. (Hey, even when it's tough love, it's still love.) But this week I'm not just making an exception; I'm veering completely off the map to review two artists who have already received coverage in 2008.

Why? Because the current shows by Leslie Banta at Mudhouse and Rob Tarbell at Les Yeux du Monde are absolutely other than their earlier exhibitions, featuring different concepts explored through different media– and yet these second shows are as impressive as their first.

In January, Banta opened eyes with her layered, semi-abstract landscape paintings at Staunton's Kronos gallery ("Expanding Horizons," January 31). She mentioned at the time that she was planning to display her much-admired art boxes, containing tiny domestic environments, in an upcoming show at Mudhouse. 

But how do you show sculpture in a coffee shop? Banta's visually stunning solution is to hang stereoscopic photographs of the pieces and provide plastic spectacles that allow viewers to re-create the 3-D effect. Each set of dual photographs depicts a miniature bed in unexpected circumstances. Several offer clever literary and artistic references, such as the two "Persephone" pieces, which feature a bed adrift and sinking in a watery basin of flowers, or "Whistler's Mother," in which a left-facing bed is the solitary occupant of an austere wooden room.

Banta's work operates on three levels. At heart are the small sculptures conveying security and peril, comfort and vulnerability. At the next level, the not-quite-twin photographs of these environments— beautiful in their own right— play with the idea of shifting memories. Finally, the handheld spectacles move viewers to actively participate in Banta's art and directly affect its reception.

Meanwhile, at Les Yeux du Monde, Rob Tarbell has put aside the humorous ceramic sculptures he exhibited in February at Second Street Gallery ("Crispy Critters," February 7) and has turned his attention to creating ethereal equine and circus-themed works with smoke(!). Working with photographic stencils, Tarbell burns various media (film, slides, credit cards, etc.) to produce wraith-like compositions infused with kinetic energy. For instance, in the wonderful and enigmatic "Dancing Bear," it's unclear whether the bear, emanating sepia fumes, is embracing or attacking its trainer.

Banta and Tarbell are people to watch– exceptional artists unafraid to break their own rules.

Leslie Banta's exhibition of stereoscopic photographs is on view at Mudhouse through the end of April. 213 W. Main St. on the Downtown Mall. 984-5163. Rob Tarbell's show, "No Mirrors," runs through April 26 at Les Yeux du Monde. 115 South St. 973-5566.