Give free rein to the imagination of 30 artists and you get a pretty lively sampler of talent and ideas. Such is "Twenty," the 20th cooperative exhibition at Highpoint Center for Printmaking in south Minneapolis.
All the art -- etchings, monoprints, lithographs, silkscreens and other works on paper -- was produced at Highpoint, which provides professional facilities for co-op members. There is, of course, no thematic link among the 70-some images that cover visual turf ranging from poetic landscapes to bemused cultural commentary. That anything-goes quality injects an inviting casualness to the show, on view through Jan. 2. Like conversations overheard in a cozy coffeehouse, the sunny gallery has a jumble of ideas, styles, motifs and techniques pinned to its walls.
Intimacy is what draws many viewers to prints. Ranging from paperback-size to poster scale, they're typically fine-lined, softly colored, lightly textured and often quirky in content. These are not big drive-by abstractions that you can "get" in a glance. They reward careful looking.
Entering Highpoint via its back door, for example, I was momentarily stumped by what appeared to be a line of tumbleweed pictures -- eight intricate and virtually identical images by Roberta Allen of tangles of string or twigs. They seemed a little obsessive even for a diehard print enthusiast, but then curiosity kicked in and I found myself, inexorably, scrutinizing them for subtle shifts in design and texture (smooth, ridged), color (blue, rust, black), line (thick, thin, broken, solid).
Nearby, four of Allen's delicate woodcut/collages looked like sweet postcard tributes to Jackson Pollock. After 10 minutes of studying them, my eyes were freshly attuned to nuances the way a musician might lock into a harmonic scale before a concert.
Musings on nature
In the main gallery, things are a pleasant jumble. Landscape highlights include Clara Ueland's Art Nouveau-style intaglio "Forest Pool," which depicts watery reflections of a wooded shoreline, and Pamela Carberry's poetic intaglio "Another Day in Autumn," which applies the dreamy 19th-century style of George Inness to a golden marsh in a forest glade.
Kari Higdem keenly observes summer's passing in three monochrome gravures of a coltish girl swimming, and Ellen Wold introduces a cartoon kid whose skinny-dipping alarms a lake full of fish in her humorous "Invasive Species" print.
Big game hunting gets Josh Winkler's attention in "Killed by One Man," a panoramic intaglio recording a showroom of taxidermied trophies including nearly 200 leopards, elk, mountain goats, grizzlies, giraffe and more. Nearby a shaggy, sullen-looking dog appears quite peeved in an amusing screenprint by Therese Krupp, and befuddled moose are found wandering though an oil drilling site in Lisl Gaal's lithograph "Prudhoe Bay, Alaska."
Overgrown with birds, critters and lush vegetation, J.B. Brent's engraving "Ruined Wall Garden" has the hermetic charm of a New Yorker illustration. Miriam Rudolph delivers several marvelously detailed tributes to life in wintry cities where residents skate, snowshoe and walk their dogs in tidy parks amid paper-doll-perfect trees and buildings. Her crisp designs and controlled colors perfectly convey the urbanity of "My Winnipeg II" and "Red River Trail."
Amid such descriptive images, it's amusing to encounter Kelsey Henderson's conceptual "Study of a Kitten's Growl," a fierce little tangle of lines that spiral outward till they crackle, and her winning image of a simple hopscotch grid chalked on a sidewalk, graced with the sweet title "Must Be Spring." She's also pitch-perfect in her drawing of emotional clouds above tiny Giacometti-stick figures. In one, a huge grumpy girl cloud mutters "So, we're not on the same page?" to an inattentive guy cloud that's drifting off.
Hats off to Mike Elko's metrosexual "New Age Cowboy," a cartoon strip in which a heroic blond cowboy blurts the same line -- "Are ... Are you all right?" -- to a gal, a horse, a cactus and a desperado, each of whom responds "Now I am ... Darling!"
Politics and daily life
Nor are the follies and distractions of contemporary politics ignored. We have, for example, Therese Krupp's amusing screenprint of heads staring skyward as an alarmist screams "National Security Problem ... Gluten." And, more seriously, in a pair of abstract lithographs Kat Zerebiec first depicts fluttering, flag-like panels of color that she titles "The Vision." In her second image, "Shattered," the colors are torn apart and the harmonious "vision" is broken into many pieces.
Many artists have experimented with their media, too. Zac Adams-Bliss shows four black-on-gray silhouettes of increasingly dark trees against sky. In her lithograph "Reflections on a Tea Kettle," Sally Gordon studies and records the myriad surfaces and textures in one tiny corner of a kitchen -- the dark-matte coils of electric burners, the polished sheen of a stainless teapot, papery spice labels, plastic spatulas in a pitcher. Daily life, intimately observed.