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Take A Fresh Look At The Beauty Of Marin Through An Artist's Eyes

Tom Killion's intricate woodblock prints are on display at Book Passage Gallery

If you’ve ever taken a class or been in a book group that’s met in the larger room of the Book Passage annex, you’ve been in the store’s gallery. Bet you haven’t spent a lot of time looking at the artwork on the walls, though. We tend to think of bookstores as being about words, not images, unless the images are in books, of course.

But may I recommend seriously browsing the BP Gallery before the end of the month? The 10 framed prints are by Tom Killion, a Marin-born and based artist who makes unforgettable Japanese-style woodblock prints. While he’s created images of sites in Europe and Africa, he is most well known for — and surely draws greatest inspiration from — the California landscape, from the High Sierra to the Pacific. His two most recent books, in fact, are The High Sierra of California (2002) and Tamalpais Walking (2009), both done in collaboration with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder. 

I happened to have High Sierra on my coffee table when some guests were in from Minneapolis last fall. I could hardly separate my friend Zora from that book, and when I mentioned that Tom would be at the Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival the next day, she said without a moment’s pause, “We’re going.”

That redwood-shaded arts fair is the perfect setting for Tom’s work. Zora fell so in love with a framed print on display, she had to buy it, even though she could have avoided the sales tax (and bought her own frame) if she’d had him ship a print to St. Paul. Tom hand-carves individual wood blocks for each color, and produces his limited-edition prints on a hand press. With all those colors, each iteration is different, and the pineapple gold trunks in Zora’s “Twin Lodgepole Pines,” set against emerald leaves and a topaz sky, probably glow in the dark. (You won’t see this image at BP, alas; it’s out of print.)

How DOES he get such intricate hues? In “Bolinas Ridge Sunset,” notice the pumpkin and pale gold shimmering above the inky trees, themselves a fine contrast to the lively blue water and semi-shaded velvet ridge, with its poppies and irises dancing in the foreground. Or consider the glowing turquoise sky and faded lime hills above St. Mary’s Church in “Nicasio,” which Killion sketched from a rocky knoll above the town — he works only from drawings, never photographs.

Born and raised in Mill Valley, Killion (like Snyder) has hiked virtually every inch of Mount Tam, creating drawings and prints from that setting since he was a teenager. Now, in his studio on Inverness Ridge, near Point Reyes Station, he’s working on landscape prints for a new book. See tomkillion.com.

Tom is half of one of the most popular artistic duos in the Bay Area. You've probably seen another Killion byline, the award-winning Ann Killion, in the local sports pages.

IF YOU GO: Through January 31, Book Passage annex, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, 927.0960, bookpassage.com. The framed prints are $350 to $750; also available are individual and boxed notecards, 2012 calendar, and some of Killion’s books.

Sylvia Barry January 13, 2012 at 02:43 AM
Beautiful woodblock prints. Thank you for sharing!
sydney park January 13, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Ann Killion is Tom's sister, not wife. She is married to Matt Gillespie, a local teacher.
Jacqueline Gilman January 13, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Glad to know of this show, and his books also. Thanks!
Derek Wilson January 14, 2012 at 12:35 AM
Do you think we should list all the famous residents of the Twin cities area? Ann would probably make the list, along with Barry Zito and Gavin Newsom.
Pamela Feinsilber January 14, 2012 at 05:34 PM
I hope you make it to Book Passage, Sylvia. If not, or if so, you can see many, many images of Tom's work on his very good website, www.tomkillion.com.

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