Water marks: Versluys pulls one-offs

Kathy Plunket Versluys, "Splash Down."
Kathy Plunket Versluys, "Splash Down."

When artist Kathy Plunket Versluys began her rain-themed series of monotype prints, she could not have predicted how parched Charlottesville would be when they went on display. But the charm of Versluys' lighthearted exhibition, "Precipitation," currently on view at Angelo, is its reminiscence of what a good drenching feels like.

In Versluys' rainy world, dogs prance through puddles while their owners wrestle with bumbershoots turned inside, and men in suits hunch beneath umbrellas, buying flowers on their way home from work. Such easygoing fare belies the inherent challenge of monotype printing. Unlike other printmaking techniques–- etching, block printing, silkscreening, etc.–- the artist gets one shot at making a successful image (putting the "mono" in the monotype).

For each of the 11 works in "Precipitation," Versluys has carefully manipulated black ink on a plexiglass plate, mindful of what the composition would look like in reverse, before pressing paper against the plate to create the print. Because monotype prints rely on the thickness and distribution of the ink, they are by nature somewhat unpredictable, a characteristic Versluys uses to her advantage.

In fact, the more she lets chance come into play, the more energetic and fun her work becomes. For instance in "Splash Down," downward diagonal streaks, running from left to right, suggest wind-driven rain falling around two figures composed of a rough series of marks that are, nevertheless, convincing. Adding to the dynamism are three diamond shapes jutting toward the upper right that suggest the sudden reversal of one figure's umbrella, echoed in the translucent, upward strokes representing the figure's head, which humorously appears to look with envy at the other figure's right-side-out umbrella.

Elsewhere, Versluys creates stamp-like elements to express both rain and the fabric pattern of umbrellas. In "Camouflage," each small patch is an abstract composition unto itself, and the endlessly varied ways Versluys scratches, drips, brushes, sponges, and moves the ink in these small areas is mesmerizing.

Versluys introduces color into two prints, "Brainstorm" and "Dark Day at the Market," a playful idea that doesn't play out particularly well. In her best pieces, the energy of her marks and the suggested gestures of her figures (including dogs) appear free and unselfconscious, but the addition of color seems to prompt a control by Versluys that robs her images of their spontaneous vitality.

Minor complaints aside, Versluys' good-humored monotype prints are the next best thing to an actual rainy day.

Kathy Plunket Versluys' exhibition, "Precipitation," is on view through August 28 at Angelo. 220 E. Main St. 971-9256.

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