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Sarasota-based artist unveils a dramatically new thematic direction at Alfstad& Contemporary
Rob Tarbell, Robert Lee Tarbell: Person of Interest, 2015. Smoke on paper, 60 x 40.

SARASOTA, FLA.- Alfstad& Contemporary presents Rob Tarbell: Smoke Screens, the second show of its third season in Sarasota. Opening November 5th and running November 6 through December 4, the show features 30 mid- and large-sized portrait images created using Tarbell’s signature methodology of transferring smoke to paper.

“After experimenting, refining and honing his singular process of creating smoke screens for over a decade, Rob has taken an exciting leap forward in applying that process to subject matter,” says Sam Alfstad. “The results are different, dramatic and startlingly original.”

Using unique and unconventional methods and materials – burning plastic credit cards, photos and 35mm slides – Tarbell allows the dark, swirling wisps to rise to a paper surface suspended overhead. “It’s an ironic nod to self-help techniques of burning way sentimental things and thoughts to remove their emotional or historical burden,” he says. “I’m destroying one thing to make a new thing.”

Through trial and error, Tarbell fashioned tools and customized equipment to react to each new discovery he made. He adapted printmaking technology to transpose photographs and collage work onto a variety of surfaces – and pioneered breakthroughs in the smoke process.

By manipulating angles, distances and durations, Tarbell creates his finished images. Literally, he captures a moment in a puff of smoke.

The imagery in Rob Tarbell: Smoke Screens originated in his fascination with Crime Times, a weekly tabloid that publishes mug shots of alleged criminals from regional sources. Using the mug shots, as well as self-portraits and similar photographs of family and friends as inspiration, Tarbell’s new body of work explores themes of identity, celebrity, infamy and public presumption and perception.

The results are intimately intense portraits that simultaneously present truth and illusion by transposing photographs through the ephemeral medium of smoke. Each work combines the refinement of Tarbell’s artistic technique and control with an irrepressible spontaneous natural energy.

Rob Tarbell: Smoke Screens runs November 5 - December 4, Tuesday-Saturday, 11-5pm. The public is invited to the Opening Night Reception on Thursday, November 5, 5:30-8:00pm. Complimentary wine & hors d’oeuvres. Alfstad& Contemporary is located at 1419 5th Street in Sarasota, Florida.

After receiving his BFA in Painting and Graphic Design at Auburn University, Rob Tarbell earned an MFA from the University of Tennessee. He went on to teach art and design at Limestone College, James Madison University, Virginia Commonwealth University and New College of Florida and presently teaches at Ringling College of Art and Design.

In 2014, Tarbell was awarded the John Ringling Towers Visual Artist Grant by the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota. Previously, he received fellowships from the Virginia Center for Creative Arts and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. This year he will be a resident at the prestigious Hermitage Artist Retreat in Englewood, Florida.

During his career, Tarbell has shown in 20 solo and numerous group exhibitions throughout the United States, U.K., Korea and China. His smoke work is represented by Decorazon Gallery, London and Dallas; Krause Gallery, New York; and Alfstad& Contemporary, Sarasota, FL. His earlier work can be seen at Dolby Chadwick Gallery, San Francisco; and Les Yeux du Monde and Page Bond Galleries in Virginia.

Tarbell lives in Sarasota, Florida with his wife, Anna von Gehr, and daughter, Dottie.

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