Sometimes the Print Center's three solo shows in its three galleries are a masterstroke of compatibility, the equivalent of a symphonic crescendo; other times, the shows do not feel galvanized by their proximity. The current threesome - exhibitions of prints by Janet Towbin, Bill Scott, and Orit Hofshi - falls somewhere in between. Towbin and Scott, whose modestly scaled works were printed by Cindi R. Ettinger, are subtle, contemplative artists, but their shows are on different floors. Hofshi, who shares the second floor with Scott, and who made her own enormous woodcut prints, would have been better matched with two artists working on a similarly ambitious scale.
Towbin, a former textile designer, is the only one of the three working in a vein that is immediately recognizable as a trend in contemporary art. Her etchings of complex networks inspired by plant growth and the movement of water and wind are perfectly drawn, but are also more formal than the efforts of some other practitioners of this minute kind of patterning (Astrid Bowlby's humorous clusterings of daisies and chrysanthemums come to mind).
The lone painter - and also the one possessing the most mature, idiosyncratic personal style of the three - Scott has effectively created the "on-paper" version of his paintings in his lyrical, whimsical prints. They are lighter in touch than his paintings, as they would be, but feature the same distinctive line and color relationships. With Ettinger, he has used a variety of printmaking techniques in his abstractions of his studio interior and of the trees through its windows, among them the intaglio processes of etching, aquatint, drypoint, engraving and mezzotint.
Hofshi's huge, tactile woodcut prints deliver instant impact, like an Anselm Kiefer painting, but their dramatic size and textures are more enticing than the images she depicts, which look a bit too much like illustrations from a Grimm's fairy tale. Her landscapes would be more apocalyptic without the figures and the mysterious narratives. These prints' extreme physicality should be their strongest suit.
Hair and motion
The faint, lacy pencil-rendered patterns in James Nelson's drawings of a few years ago have given way to bolder, darker, charcoal ones. Nelson's recent drawings from his series "Head of a Girl (in play)," at Gallery Joe, also introduce obvious humor to his work. The series' title, taken from the traditional description of a portrait of any anonymous young female sitter, is used here to unite Nelson's subject matter, the backs of women's heads-specifically their hair.
Remember Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the 16th-century Italian painter famous for his portraits of people whose heads are composed entirely from vegetables and fruit? Nelson invokes him more than once. He also brings to mind late Philip Guston and the Chicago Imagists, in particular Christina Ramberg. He manages this, though, not through images of hair - or anything remotely realistic - but through configurations of coiling, sausagey shapes.
There are several works here that take the hair idea to the limit, such as a deeply vertical drawing, possibly a nod to Rapunzel-length hair, that is an all-over pattern of worm and shell-like shapes, not unlike a horde of heads as seen from above. Eccentric, yes, but a very elegant drawing nevertheless.
Christine Hiebert's five large drawings in the vault show her navigating different kinds of space in her familiar jagged, jittery lines. Drawing with charcoal on paper sized with rabbit skin glue, Hiebert appears to be suggesting different kinds of motion. Horses in landscapes, battle scenes, human figures in interiors, twirling ballerinas and sweeping cityscapes come to mind. These are beautiful works alone and together - Hiebert's drawn lines and her unmarked space in these drawings pulls one's eye between the two, and between the individual pieces, a motion of looking that makes the viewer a part of the drawings and their installation. That is encouraged by the works' unframed, pushpin, lighter-than-air display in this dimly lit, windowless room.