Seed-like rays represent a sort of radiant energy. The dashes are Morse code. Courtesy of j. rinehart gallery

When I recently met up with Gig Harbor–based painter Tara Flores, there were crystals knocking around in her pocket. She produced them for me before we started talking: amethyst, apatite, agate, rhodonite, and others. She told me she keeps them close to her while she works translating each crystal's energy into her paintings.

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In Subtle Matter at J. Rinehart Gallery, Flores meditates on and responds to the healing properties of individual crystals. The title of the show refers to the esoteric concept of the etheric or subtle body, the layer of energy just outside our physical bodies. It also speaks to the subtle effects that Flores believes crystals have on us. "Everything is light, love and light. It sounds flippant and cheesy sometimes, but [everything] really is. All of existence is just energy in relation to each other," she told me.

This may sound a bit "woo-woo" to you, but the way Flores explores this idea of energy— especially as it pertains to crystals, color, and spirituality—is compelling. She started this practice in 2014 when her stepfather suddenly passed away, thinking about what happens to a person's essence after they die.

"Everyone has that question, but it occurred to me that his passing had caused so much emotion and energy to well up in the people closest to him that maybe that's where his energy went, and I could just transfer it," she told me. Drawing on her fascination with the nature of apoptotic cells and cellular death on a microscopic level, she honed her focus to investigate the healing properties (and vibes) of stones.

Each painting in Subtle Matter is based off a crystal she felt drawn to, reflecting the colors present in the stone and also the healing properties said to be associated with it. Using acrylic and house paint, she starts with a base wash of colors in the background, and then creates a hexagonal lattice on top that mimics the stable molecular structure of crystals themselves.

Over that are seed-like rays that emanate from either the center or corner of the piece. Layered with two or three different colors found in the stone, they represent a sort of radiant energy meant to mirror the crystal's supposed energy. The seed-rays turn into colorful dashes, which are actually Morse code. Flores learned the code to translate properties associated with each crystal as a form of meditation. So when you're looking at Amber, the painting is communicating "Ancient Soothing Forest Magic," or if you're standing in front of Amazonite, it's telling you "Truth Flows" in its corona.

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It could be easy to disregard Flores's approach to her work as being trendy new-agey posturing. And yet. Her paintings do seem to vibrate on another level. Her sense of color, layering of meaning, and hours of focus and meditation are somehow apparent. There's a touch of the sublime to the show.

As we chatted, I kept a firm grip on labradorite, a feldspar mineral whose color shifts depending on how the light hits it, like glitter in water: blue, yellow, green, brown. I felt entranced by it. The painting, with its green color wash background and blue rays, was telling me "Seeing Present Moment Wisdom." Leaving the gallery I thought: Message received.