Rob Tarbell has a very unique talent. By burning everyday objects under a paper canvas fixed on the ceiling of his studio, he is able to control the rising flow of smoke and create incredible works of art.
The artist first got the idea of using smoke as a medium for his art in 2007, and he quickly realized that in order to make it work, he needed to control the smoke, while letting it do what it does naturally. To him, that sounded a lot like what circus trainers do with wild animals, so this inspired him to use circus performances as the main subjects of his beautiful smoke paintings. Masterfully channeling the flow of smoke, Tarbell creates ghost-like figures, both animal and human performing circus acts, in a series entitled Smoke Rings. “The performing animal images in the Smokes parallel the drawing process,” Rob says on his website. “The trainer must recognize and respect the innate nature of an animal when trying to modify its behavior to achieve a desired outcome: e.g. training a bear to dance or training a horse to walk upright. The same is true in working with smoke. The inherent properties of smoke must be respected, then permitted to – and yet discouraged from – acting naturally.”
It’s mind-boggling how someone can just burn everyday objects like photos and credit cards under a big piece of paper and control the smoke in such a way to create such detailed representations, without actually burning the canvas. Still, accidents do happen, so Rob always works in a fireproof suit, with a carbon filter unit and fresh air system with full facial mask. he used to create his smoke art in a metal garage, but he recently moved to an isolated room adjacent to his house.
Photos © Rob Tarbell