Medusa, by Vivian van Blerk
Medusa, by Vivian van Blerk Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Norback Fine Art

It’s always interesting to see two artists working independently of one another exhibited together. Done right, the juxtaposition can both enhance the viewer’s understanding of each artist as an individual and allow for the creation of new meaning in the interplay between their work. That’s the case with Vivian van Blerk and Douglas Stapleton’s joint show “In Metamorphosis,” which can be interpreted as an examination of narrative.

Using ambrotype, an early photographic process that involves creating a positive image on a pane of glass, van Blerk captures characters from mythology in the moment their fate is sealed. He shows us Icarus as his wings begin to melt against the sun, and Daphne transforming into a tree to escape the lustful Apollo. By using an antiquated technique to re-create mythological scenes with modern models (his Dyrope is African-American), van Blerk pulls the story out of time, creating a mood that’s neither past nor present. What we’re left with is a consideration of the eternal recurrence of archetypes—the cautionary tale of Icarus, the exemplary chastity of Daphne—in both life and art.

While van Blerk removes his subjects from time, Stapleton uses time as a subject, layering historical images and cultural references in collage. He creates what appear to be Speedos on a Roman frieze and Victorian birds over Italian frescoes, building a history that’s both condensed and fractured, reconfigured according to a particular point of view. Stapleton presents another way the story of humanity can be told—by gathering elements of reality and applying them where we think they belong.