'Shifting Ground," a three-artist display at the Michener Museum, features living Bucks County artists whose work shows energy, inventiveness and risk. Calling public attention to significant art of our day, it marks the launch of a promising new series of exhibits, lectures and programs intended to loosen the hold that Pennsylvania Impressionism - with its comfort of the familiar - has on many.

And while the displays, in separate rooms, by these two painters and one photographer are strong individually, the disconnected structure of the show makes sense as a whole, and really pulls us in.

Paula Chamlee's photos of distant places intensify reality to the point of abstraction, especially her close views of such Icelandic subjects as rock encrustations, chunks of ice and crevasses carved by icy rivers. These show us the marvelous subtleties that the weathering of time produces. Chamlee grasps here the inner life of many Icelandic elements, which seem to bob and wink at us in her film clip of the pounding surf with its pulsating rhythms, believed to be uniquely patterned.

An abstract painter, Alan Goldstein works from landscape images distilled in his mind. Interestingly, he uses a blended oil/wax medium that is oddly beautiful in its effects, as he handles it; with this ancient medium, he gets volatile results. Poured-on dark colors spread out into veils that imply intricate spaces, yet he depends for his effects as much on blocky structural formats as on internal refinements and subtleties.

The decorative serenity of Goldstein's work has sophisticated appeal. Such paintings are the most subtle and ambitious expressions of his metaphysical inclinations to date.

Could Paul Matthews be described as representing a loyal opposition to abstract expressionism? His aim as a realist painter, after all, is emotional impact. He has no use for the cut-and-dried neutrality many artists allow to overwhelm their work's vitality.

Wholehearted and convincing portrayals of trees, cloud forms, masterful figures in landscape, with thoughtful attention to natural appearance, richly harmonized colors and honest feeling expressed - these are his strengths. His newest work is both a summary of past achievements and an extension of them. Matthews is one of our finest figure and landscape painters at work today.

James A. Michener Art Museum, 138 S. Pine, Doylestown. Through March 1. Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m.. Closed Jan.1. Adults $6.50; $4 extra for "Shifting Ground" exhibit. 215-340-9800.

Gaining ground

Bryn Mawr Rehab's 13th annual "Art Ability" in Malvern features the largest turnout yet of artists competing in this juried international show - 118 artists with disabilities from more than two dozen states and five countries, showing 430 paintings and sculptures, plus crafts. Only 10 percent of participants were Bryn Mawr patients previously; 30 artists are new to the display.

It's a pleasure to report that "Art Ability" has risen steadily in stature over the years to its present high point. It now ranks as a truly major exhibit of its kind from the standpoint of quality, as well as the battery of services it provides participants. It also can be said that, because of its exemplary emphasis on quality, the exhibit provides an opportunity to help expand mainstream art's openness to new perspectives on art's meaning in modern life. A wonderful show.

Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital, 414 Paoli Pike, Malvern. Through Jan.18. Daily 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Free. 610-251-5607.

Words and music

Sandra Bowden of Massachusetts mixes musical scores and chiefly Hebrew texts with biblical archaeology in collagraphs and paintings now on display at Manayunk's White Stone Gallery.

The effect is one of considerable repetition and regularly placed elements, the best-designed piece being her

Holy, Holy, Holy

collagraph, which links Revelations 4 and the "Sanctus" from Benjamin Britten's

War Requiem

.

White Stone Gallery, 4219 Main St., Manayunk, Philadelphia. To Jan. 4. Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m.. Free. 215-482-7700.