Early last year, I recommended visiting Book Passage bookstore in Corte Madera for the express purpose of viewing art: to be specific, Tom Killion’s enticing woodblock prints. Now the store is again showing some of Killion’s framed large-format Iris and woodcut prints on the walls of the gallery, in the annex, behind the store. The store has book group meetings and other events in that room (my group just talked with San Francisco author Peter Orner about his excellent novel Love and Shame and Love), but the artwork is reason alone to seek out that room and stay a while.
Killion, who is based in West Marin, has created images of sites in Europe and Africa, but seems most inspired by the California landscape. In fact, his two most recent books, both done in collaboration with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, are The High Sierra of California (2002) and Tamalpais Walking (2009). Images from these two books and more are on the Book Passage gallery walls.
For each image, Tom hand carves individual wood blocks for each color and produces his prints on a hand press. Using all those colors and hand printing every limited-edition run makes each iteration of a print slightly different. My friend Zora fell madly in love with a framed print of one of Killion’s most striking images, “Twin Lodgepole Pines,” when we saw his work at the Mill Valley Fine Arts Festival last fall. Since she was visiting from Minnesota, she could have saved on the state sales tax if she’d had him ship her another print of that image, and framed it herself. But no, she had to have that particular print. And who could blame her? The others we saw weren't quite as vivid; in hers, the pineapple gold tree trunks, 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 still working on his ever-changing but always beautiful landscape prints. See tomkillion.com.
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, 2013 calendar, and some of Killion’s books.