Share story

Davidson Galleries’ “International Wood Engraving Invitational” lures you into grand artistic visions on a smaller scale — sometimes as tiny as a few square inches.

Landscapes, portraits, parables and fantasies abound in the show. One moment you’re looking at a rat’s eye view of the London Underground (Rebecca Coleman’s slant-angled “View Subterranea I”), the next you’re floating above the spiraling folds of a California hillside (Paul Landacre’s seductive “Hill”).

Some are obviously commercial pieces, done as illustrations for books or magazines of an old and genteel character. But just as large a number are personal works, inspired by the intricate detail and stark boldness of design possible in this medium.

This is the second installment of “International Wood Engraving Invitational.” Part I ran in December, but many of its pieces, both antique and contemporary, are still available. In the meantime, what’s now on the walls offers plenty for the eye to savor. And some of it is remarkably affordable, going for $100 or less.

Featured artists range from household names (Barry Moser, M.C. Escher) to lesser-known engravers. The quality naturally varies, but look carefully and you’ll find some masterpieces.

Leon Gilmour offers fascinating blends of naturalism and stylization. In “Timberline,” for instance, a finely detailed wind-blasted tree perched at the very edge of where trees are possible, rises like a pop-up detail from a scaled-down mountainscape. “Outposts” is more daring still, with its two monumental heads protruding from a miniature Earth, with a tangle of small struggling bodies amassed behind them.

Some pieces hint at myth or metaphor. Lynd Ward’s “Thicket” shows a thoughtful child weighing his options in a thorny labyrinth. Hilary Paynter’s “In Exile” depicts a wary figure in a maze of tilted concrete pillars crowned with peculiarly tidy treetops. Moser’s “Outside I” and “Outside II” are elaborate desert landscapes where snakes, doves, cactuses and an oblique human presence intersect.

A variety of approaches to portraiture are included. The title figure in Bernard Brussel-Smith’s “The Boxer” is seated and enrobed, yet the power of his physique comes across vividly through the fluid veil of cloth enwrapping him. François Maréchal’s “Voyeur” is a half-view of a face whose wide-open right eye and slanted mouth suggest a keenly focused appetite — with the viewer as the object of desire.

Nature studies are part of the exhibit’s lineup, with some of them straightforward (Escher’s “Grasshopper” has no tricks to it, though the insect’s exoskeleton does look powerfully architectural) and some of them more fanciful (Colin See-Payton’s “Round of Wren,” ironically, looks more Escher-like than Escher in the patterns it creates from the plumage of a circle of 11 wrens).

Finally, there are pieces that have fun leading the viewer’s eye in unexpected directions. In Edwina Ellis’ “Flung Plumbob,” the title object breaks frame from the rectangle of patterned wallpaper it’s casting its shadow against. Paul Gentry’s “Crosswalk” cleverly constricts its viewpoint to capture the energy of an urban scene: three shoppers, seen only from the torso down, striding across a street.

There’s plenty more here that should suit a variety of tastes and a surprising range of budgets.

Michael Upchurch: