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Princes Of Prints

Holy Family
Holy Family: A linocut by Artemio Rodriguez.

ICA displays the best of the Kala Institute

By Ann Elliott Sherman

FOR ITS FINAL exhibit of the year, the Institute of Contemporary Art showcases printmakers so skilled they could crank out a piece in their sleep. The single thread unifying the 10 artists is that all of them have made use of the top-notch facilities at the Oakland-based Kala Institute. Sadly, much of the work stimulates REM, though several artists demonstrate real passion for capturing an elusive sensation, puzzling out the staying power of an experience or breathing new fire into a time-honored medium.

Jessica Dunne's monotypes take us on a driving tour of San Francisco, a windshield on a world devoid of pedestrians or mass transit. The inescapable presence of traffic is as close as Dunne gets to commentary, though the unabashedly romantic studies of light and color evince a penchant for witnessing beauty even in the unrelenting isolation--and the ability to translate it into an evocative, tightly composed if conventional image.

Westbound Bay Bridge captures that magical aura fog lends, a haloed shimmer surrounding each little bulb strung between the spans. Green Light at Sloat does much the same thing for the roseate glow of an unseen ocean sunset, nicely punctuated by the traffic light's green gleam reflected on the cars.

In her frescoes of crushed pigment on paper, Claudia Bernardi repeatedly rearranges the same few images, the way one might obsessively reconsider the vivid parts of a haunting dream from every possible angle, the better to comprehend its grip on the psyche.

The trademark intensity of Bernardi's unadulterated pigments exerts a nearly magnetic pull. When contrasted with more subdued secondary shades, it also signifies the emotional charge surrounding certain details, most notably the chrome-orange burst of blood where the point of a knife cuts a woman's back.

Grim details appear as crudely etched outlines, as if these hard facts had been scratched from stone or the very soul. A recurrent scale of measure suggests that perhaps the murder in question is a mystery Bernardi confronted in her work as a forensic anthropologist; we now must bear witness, too.

In the brutally satiric spirit of Goya, Artemio Rodriguez's linocuts start as expressionistic loteria cards and gradually give way to take-no-prisoners social commentary too surreal and complex to be just another political cartoon, although the card format also works like the panels of a comic.

By the third in La Loteria series, the card titles are abandoned; traditional figures like Adan and Eva give way to a Zapatista and a naked woman cornered in an alley. Rodriguez spares no one, Nazi Capitalist Christians and sagging gangbangers alike, but is at his most fascinating when the unspeakable meets the fantastic in scenarios that defy stereotypes or logic, carving a niche all his own where cautionary tale meets visionary prophecy.

Masters of the Medium: Printmakers From the Kala Institute runs through Jan. 18, 1997, at the Institute of Contemporary Art San Jose, 451 S. First St. (408/283-8155)

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From the December 12-18, 1996 issue of Metro

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