Phillip Jarrell: In a Lyrical Fashion

Songwriter, musician, photographer, Phillip Jarrell has taken on a number of the arts and done quite well with them. In his current incarnation as a photographer, he has created dreamlike environments populated by beautiful women in stunning dresses. The poetic moment interests him; he translates a strong sense of design and composition into images that resonate in the viewer¡¯s thoughts long after they have been looked at. The striking tableaus created by Jarrell are so extravagant as to be unreal; in one image, a woman in gray stands with her arm raised before her in a forest of hot pink trees, while in another, we see the fantastic image of a woman in a voluminous red dress, with a phosphorescent green forest on either side of her. In the artist¡¯s photographs, the surreal becomes exquisitely beautiful, while the often darkly lit atmosphere lend an air of mystery, even of menace. Jarrell¡¯s scenarios revisit the children¡¯s fairy tale, wherein stories become larger than life and more affecting than we would normally concede.

Jarrell emphasizes the unreal because he wants to make an impact on everyday life; he sees the imagination as calling from a place that is essentially strange, in the sense that the places he constructs are totally self-sufficient in their profligate loveliness. The model represents the pinnacle of elegance and good looks, which are highlighted by the dramatic lighting and imaginary environments the artist creates and manipulates. At one point active in popular music, Jarrell produces CD covers as well, and it often looks like he is tapping into the surreal world of rock, whose disk covers often add strange imageries to the pictures of the band or singing figure. As a photographic artist, Jarrell intensifies our longing for the picturesque¡ªeven when we know that such a setting is hardly real. His ability to build scenes that are larger than life enable him to hold his audience¡¯s attention, no matter what it may be his viewers see. The saturated reds and greens of his imagery may be realized outside of nature, but that is part of his point: the very artificiality of his milieus adds to the idiosyncrasy and lingering effectiveness of his art.

Risking the bizarre, Jarrell populates his pictures with women whose costumes are every bit as strange as the setting. Some of the dresses look like fashion statements, but there are others that are so outlandish, they must be seen as figments of the imagination. This results from the tension between Jarrell¡¯s hyperreal sense of detail and his fondness for the absurd. Given our current ability to alter the photograph beyond its original condition, we can only wonder at the artist¡¯s sense of wonder and romantic interest. His audience is dazzled by these images of idealized beauty, made that much more so by the women in decorative dress. In his wish to construct striking images of desire, Jarrell begins with fantasy only to move beyond it, to a place where anything can happen because anything can be imagined. In this way, it matters little how he achieves his photos, which convey the illogical as if it were the real. Jarrell¡¯s imagery is inspired by a passion for what can be conceived; however strange that may be, it makes sense as spectacle and as art.

Jonathan Goodman