Artis Rob TarbellBorn in Findlay, Ohio, Rob Tarbell earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting and Graphic Design from Auburn University. He attended graduate school at the University of Tennessee where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree and Master of Science degree in Art Education. For nearly two decades, he has balanced his studio practice with teaching at institutions such as Virginia Commonwealth University and James Madison University. Moving to Sarasota, Florida, in 2013, he continued to hone his techniques in his home studio, while he worked at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and taught at the New College of Florida and the Ringling College of Art and Design. Tarbell and his family work and reside in Richmond, Virginia.

Over the past thirteen years, Rob Tarbell has developed and drawn from two unique processes – “Smokes”, smoke based work and the “Struggles”, porcelain sculptural ceramics.

In 2006, a failed portrait attempt using cigarettes and liquor collided with a lingering what – if:

"What if I burned my credits cards and used the smoke to make marks?"

The first attempt at burning credit cards yielded a deep black with seductive wispy grays no brush could deliver. Tarbell’s penchant for embracing unorthodox methods and materials was then fully focused on the potential of capturing and creating with smoke. He continues to pioneer and push his smoke technique through rigorous trial and error and with the adaptation of tools and the creation of equipment to suit each new discovery and advance of the smoke process.

To create the smoke, credit cards, gift cards, and, now, 35mm slides of his artwork are burned - removing their growing presence in daily life - an ironic nod to a self-help technique of burning sentimental things to remove their emotional burden or historical connection. The smoke process involves directly permitting or preventing its accumulation, or by indirectly encouraging or discouraging the flow of smoke on the surface.

The Struggles are sculptural ceramic figures created by infusing fabrics and faux fur with porcelain slip, forming, then firing. Each figure embodies the acts of loss, transformation, and preservation in subject, concept, and material. Animals appear whole, or in part, and impersonate through guises or by employing disguises. Rabbits embody a vast array of symbols and possess the ability to pass between the real and imaginary while still remaining true to their chosen character.
In 2017, the Tampa Museum of Art featured his smoke and porcelain work in Skyway Selections: Curator’s Choice. His work has been shown in more than twenty solo exhibitions and seventy-five group exhibitions throughout the United States, Korea, China, and England. Rob’s work is currently represented by Claire Oliver Gallery in New York.
Tarbell’s work has been featured in more than 50 articles in publications worldwide, including New American Paintings, the Huffington Post UK, Daily Mail UK, and the Kultura Zabaikalya in Transbaikalia, Siberia.

Connect with Rob:

Rob on Facebook

Rob on Instagram


  1. Caroline Italia on January 4, 2020 at 1:36 pm

    Thank you, Pamela. Yes, there are many psychological layers to Rob’s work! Glad to know you’re out there listening.

  2. Pamela Beck on December 21, 2019 at 10:21 am

    Insightful interview about a fascinating artist. Tarbell’s work is mysterious and completely original. So interesting to hear him talk about the expression of his unique ideas.Thank you!