That shiver of acknowledgement is felt in abundance this month at Sandy Carson Gallery. Unlike the legion of artist-dreamers who delight in garish, sensational imagery, the three artists showing here approach the subject of dreams with more subtlety. Mark Rediske demonstrates the surprising versatility of oil pastels by building layers of sophisticated illusion with this "beginner's" medium. Shane Fero's whimsical, stylized glass sculptures represent tiny transparent gods and demons. And Tom Kochel's moody black-and-white photography offers a psychological slant on water and spirituality. All three indirectly reveal aspects of the unconscious, playing not so much on the viewer's fear of the unknown as on familiar things obscured by shadows.
Rediske's paintings use a spare vocabulary of forms to suggest a world of meaning. Starting with a board or paper base, the artist scrubs layer after layer of somber-colored oil pastels into and over one another, gradually constructing a dimensional maze of translucent textures that appear to have great age. Within these quiet universes, meaningful shapes appear: abstract urns, harps, torches, leaf sprigs and the like. Hinting at Greek mythology, the tools of alchemy and certain optical illusions (is it two facing profiles or a vase?), Rediske's brooding but serene vignettes refuse to get specific. Instead, his work evokes a vague atmosphere of ancient order lost, of promises unfulfilled, of clarity destroyed by dust-devils.
Alchemy appears in the titles and meanings of Rediske's mock-primal pieces. Small paintings hung in series of four seem at first to exemplify classical order. Sedate, symmetrical compositions using amphoralike shapes inlaid in the oil-crayon pastiche increase the impression of a resurrected antique culture. But at the same time Rediske subverts the historic ideal, letting his nebulous imagery remain elusive. Like objects in dreams, the flat silhouettes inhabiting paintings like "Alchemy Ascension II," "Alchemy Premise IX," "Alchemy Premise II" and "Alchemy Premise IV" are familiar but strange; they have obvious intent but resist analysis. Blood-red undertones throughout the series increase the edgy, entranced feel.
Shane Fero's work is less dreamy, focusing on mythological figures. His lamp-worked glass is a medium remembered from amusement parks and tourist shops, where craftspeople magically pull miniature animals from bits of torch-melted glass and pigments. But those crude curios bear little resemblance to Fero's virtuoso renditions. His pantheon of goddesses ("Selene") and his "Spirit Vessels" resemble denizens of a fantastic cartoon dream. The dancing demeanor of these bat-demons, earth-mothers and totemic beasts demonstrate the intricacy and depth possible with this quasifolk art form. Fero's piquant style, along with the implied danger residing within his fragile figurines, endow the pieces with a charisma out of proportion to their size.
Finally, Tom Kochel's selenium-toned silver gelatin prints magically freeze moving figures in such a way that their psychic bodies are revealed, liberated from their physical prisons. Photos like "Guides and Spirits Will Befriend You," "Untitled Face" and "Breakthrough" seem like standard, generic shots at first, but a slow consideration of the images uncovers their voyeuristic power, like fleeting glimpses of other people's dreams.
Though not quite as unnerving as walking into someone else's nightmare, these disparate but harmonious artworks still provoke an indefinable aura of disturbing reverie. Real dreams might get better than this, but they can't be framed and hung.
Mark Rediske, Shane Fero and Tom Kochel, through April 22 at Sandy Carson Gallery, 1734 Wazee Street, 297-8585.