Shelly Corbett - Abyssal Tarot
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lisa karl
seattle times tempo
 

   

“Cannon Gallery’s Corbett show exhibits work of surprise, mystery”

Seattle Times Tempo - December 9, 1994

Large-scale photographs deserve extra credit, especially if they are as (sensual and metaphoric) as the new work by Shelly Corbett in the Linda Cannon Gallery.

Her images, type C and chromogenic prints enlarged up to 30 by 40 inches, are richly colored and full of mystery.

It isn’t obvious that the photographs of her nude models were taken underwater. They are subtle, with only shimmery rays of refracted light and a feeling of suspended gravity to give them away.

“I usually place myself at the bottom of the pool,” Corbett writes. “The models feel a sense of privacy and protection from the water, seeing only their reflection. I become a voyeur to their intimate behavior.”

Corbett rents a local pool, dons a weight belt and goggles, and works with her models in water about 5 feet deep. She hangs curtains of colored cloth for a backdrop, although she often shoots directly up toward the sky to capture surface reflections.

Corbett recently started bringing lights into the pool with her, and uses filters on them to alter the cool blue of a swimming pool to warmer browns and golds.

In many of the images, the colorful fabrics of red, purple, royal blue and burgundy float upward, and with the models’ fanned-out hair combines to create a look of Renaissance angels floating in Italian ceiling frescoes. There is a strong historical presence of European painting in her photographs, namely the pale, delicate skin and the sensual red tones found in paintings by Peter Paul Reubens, a Flemish artist of the 17th century.

While other photographers, most notably Cindy Sherman, have created photographic images that hearken back to earlier periods in European art, Corbett manages to compose photographs that don’t feel forced or set up. The sense of poking fun at portrait painting evident in Sherman’s work is absent in Corbett’s photographs. Instead of parodying art from the 17th-century Europe she has expanded on the theme. Her work might easily have fit into an abstract movement in baroque art had such works existed.

Instead of being pure dissertations on the nude and of light and color, these photographs have some nasty, occasionally graphic themes that spice them up, One titled “The Bride” features a woman with her facial features blurred facing toward the camera with red flowers in her lap and a pair of hands placed menacingly around her neck. Corbett’s use of color in this piece is exquisite, which lends to the eerie and disturbing quality of this photograph. The aquamarine overtones in the photograph give her skin a surreal, bluish white tint, and the royal blue, red and sienna colors accentuate it.

This piece is reminiscent of a painting by Gustave Courbet titled “The Preparations of the Bride,” (Underneath this painting Courbet’s original version depicts women preparing the body of a dead woman for burial. Art historians discovered this version after noticing that the face of the “bride” looked quite emotionless and her skin tones lifeless.

Corbett’s occasionally graphic moments take her photographs to one extreme; a series of images with her models wielding bouquets of flowers and pastels fabrics take it to another, less interesting place. With glib titles such as “Constant Promises” and“Ardent Seduction,” Her use of flowers often seem trite and it strips away the intrigue of the image. The sense that something important is about to happen and the moments of private humor vanish is these pieces. Luckily, this is but a small theme in the show, and forgivable after all of the artist’s sensual and metaphoric creations.

Some of her prints with flowers do work, however. And besides her traditional color prints, Corbett has produced a series of manipulated Iris prints. Scanning color prints into a computer, enhancing them, and printing the new image directly onto watercolor paper via printer called the “Iris.” Corbett manipulates the colors in the scanned prints dramatically, and sometimes removes distracting elements, but she basically keeps the image intact.

The printing process subdues the colors in the photograph and gives the print the textured paper surface of a watercolor. The muted colors make the images much quieter, and although they are beautiful, they get lost in all the brilliance and commotion of the large, more traditional prints in the show.

— Lisa Karl

 

 
lisa karl
seattle times tempo
 

  
Shelly Corbett - Abyssal Tarot
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