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Janet Marcavage prints at Tacoma Library

Intelligent design at Handforth

“Veil,” hard ground etching and screen print by Janet Marcavage. Photo courtesy of the artist

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Janet Marcavage's latest prints at the Handforth Gallery, Tacoma Public Library are intelligent and aesthetically pleasing - intelligent because the combinations of colors and patterns are clearly well thought out, and pleasing to the eye because they are bright and engaging.

I am not one to go around looking for real-world references in abstract art. When other people do so, I want to cry out: Can't you people just appreciate it for the colors and shapes and textures, for the use of balance, contrast and harmony! But in these prints, which I appreciate for all those reasons, I enjoy seeing cliffs and clouds and flags, and decorative cloth blowing in the wind or crumpled into intriguing forms that can be seen as figures or animals.

These prints are mostly hard ground etchings combined with screen prints; a few are screen prints alone or other print media. Her basic trope is to print thin lines or broad bands in color or in black and white over other patterns that are similar but with slight variations, such as thin lines over heavier bands of color or colorful striped patterns over similar striped patterns of a different color or a lighter value of the same color. In nearly every print there are two layers, and the lower layer is broken into various shapes that are often like sheets of paper or cloth that is folded or bent; and these shapes rest or float on white backgrounds. The result is an almost musical or dance-like play between similar and contrasting elements that alternate between figure and ground or flat and voluminous. Her color choices are bright, fine and nuanced, and the stripes, lines and bands of color are precise and skillfully drawn.

On the left as you enter the gallery there is an untitled print in black and white with meandering vertical lines that look like the sides of cliffs that almost completely cover the surface of the paper with only a thin open area or "sky" at the top. Farther around on the same wall is another untitled print with waving purple and blue bands of color that overlap on what looks like a sheet blowing in the wind. Above this shape is a cloud shape made of tiny, staccato black and red lines. There is a happy feel to this as if you're watching a striped bedsheet slip free and blow away in the wind, guided by a little cloud.

A print called "Bands" pictures something like a curtain of red and blue horizontal bands in an all-over pattern that covers the entire surface. As with many of her prints, there is a slight optical-illusion as if the curtain is being moved. This op-art effect, which can be found in many of these prints, is never blatant or tricky or overwhelming, but is a subtle added pleasure.

A screen print called "Heap" consists of one large shape made up of red and purple bands that break up into many smaller shapes like a many-faceted boulder rolling across the whiteness of the paper.

On the right-hand wall, there are two adjacent prints that from across the gallery look like American flags, but with the star fields on the wrong side. One of them is called "Veil." In it, a triangular form filled with red stripes (the star field) floats over a flat field of horizontal bands of lighter red and white (the stripes of the flag). "Pull," which hangs next to it, is similar but smaller and in black, white and gray.

Over the years I have seen Marcavage's work in many exhibitions, and every time it is different, but always thought-provoking and pleasing to the eye.

"Lines by Janet Marcavage," 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tue.-Wed., 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thurs.-Sat., through Dec. 31, Handforth Gallery, Tacoma Public Library, 1102 Tacoma Ave., 253.292.2001, tacomalibrary.org

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