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Shore Leave: Karen Towne's 'Corte Madera Creek' takes a close look at local birds.

On the Etch

Printmakers show at WORKS displays wide range of tastes and techniques

By Michael S. Gant

CALIFORNIA ARTISTS have always been drawn to the light of nature, from Bierstadt and Keith enthralled by the wonders of Yosemite Valley to the plein-air painters who created California's distinctive brand of impressionism. Even the San Francisco abstract expressionists were inspired by the dramatic landscapes of the Bay Area. That tradition shows in many of the 100 or so works on display at the current exhibit by the members of the California Society of Printmakers at WORKS/San Jose. The exceptionally diverse show is the 90th by the group, which traces its origins to 1913, when it began as the California Society of Etchers.

In quick, calligraphic strokes Alice Cronin's monotype The Pond captures the lively flux of life at the water's margins, with quick swirls of ink darting like diving insects. Regina Kirschner-Rosenzweig's monotype The Bay--Golden Gate reaches for abstraction with multiple swipes of gray against a flattened gold background demarcated with hints of horizon lines.

A number of artist are bird-struck, not surprising given the region's importance as an avian habitat. Just inside the door, Robert Brokl's 9 Roosters greets visitors with an assertion of heavily pasted poultry pigment, red combs flaming against green and blue backgrounds. Mercy Smullen's bifurcated monotype Way Out pairs a silhouetted crow at rest on the left with a crow, wings spread, juxtaposed against a ladder on the right--an image of velvety black angst straight out of Poe. A woman (presumably the artist herself in an act representing the release of creativity) releases birds captured in specimen bottles in Kirsten Francis' chunky woodcut Setting Free the Collection. In her silk-screen Deciphering Freedom, Paula Busch, recalling some of the biomorphic schemes of the California Post-Surrealists of the 1930s, superimposes a face and a seashell on an infinite expanse with an amoebalike form and a flight of cranes. Karen Towne's Corte Madera Creek depicts and labels very literally four littoral visitors: an avocet, two plovers and a stilt, as if, by naming them, we can take a step toward preserving them.

The California Society of Printmakers 90th Annual Members Exhibition runs through Jan. 31 at WORKS/San Jose, 30 N. Third St., San Jose. 408.295.8378.

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From the January 15-21, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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