Our critics weigh in on local exhibits

"Robert Bechtle: A Retrospective," "Robert Bechtle Prints," and "Robert Bechtle." The middle-class slopes of Potrero Hill and the suburban roads of Alameda don't exactly scream with picturesque possibility, but painter Robert Bechtle has spent his life turning them into art. Using the mundane as fodder for his masterpieces, Bechtle finds riveting subjects in the most ordinary of things. The everyday-ness of his paintings brings with it a familiarity that is tangible, but the uncanny exactitude of his lines, shadows, and sun rays is what makes his landscapes so realistic and inviting. A Bay Area native with an artistic career that spans half a century, the 72-year-old painter is now having his first major retrospective at SFMOMA. Bechtle's career, however, has not been limited to painting. This month, Gallery Paule Anglim features a selection of his recent drawings, while Crown Point Press shows a survey of his prints, which range from lithographs made in his garage to traditional woodblock prints made in China. "Robert Bechtle: A Retrospective" runs through June 5 at SFMOMA, 151 Third St. (at Mission), S.F. Admission is $6-10; call 357-4000 or visit "Robert Bechtle Prints" runs through April 2 at Crown Point Press, 20 Hawthorne (at Folsom), S.F. Admission is free; call 974-6273 or visit "Robert Bechtle" runs through March 5 at Gallery Paule Anglim, 14 Geary (at Kearny), S.F. Admission is free; call 433-2710 or visit (Hiya Swanhuyser) Reviewed Feb. 16.

"Tokihiro Sato: Photographic Light Panels." Sato creates luminous black-and-white photographs mounted on glowing light boxes. Though no trace of life is visible in his compositions, each image traces the artist's meditative journey across his chosen vista. Sato uses a sensitive large-format camera, leaving the shutter open for hours at a stretch as he moves slowly through the landscape with a small mirror, pausing periodically to reflect light back at the lens. Craggy coastal rocks, forest paths, and busy cosmopolitan intersections are all punctuated by clusters of bright white orbs that play like pixies over the landscape. Though Sato has employed this method for more than a decade, it never fails to enchant. Through Feb. 26 at the Haines Gallery, 49 Geary (at Kearny), Fifth Floor, S.F. Admission is free; call 397-8114 or visit (Adrienne Gagnon) Reviewed Jan. 26.

"Travelogue: The Road Trip Portfolio." Technically speaking, great photographic prints come from carefully treated negatives, the bigger the better. Bigger negatives hold more information, and if you can catch the variegated textures of the sky or the depth of a single tree, your picture's going to come out better. Photographer Chris McCaw's work in this show comes from an impressive 7-inch-by-17-inch-format homemade camera. But technique isn't enough; photography requires a sharp eye for composition, a sense of humor, and good subject matter. In McCaw's case, check, check, and skateboarders. Through March 18 at Fusion Artspace, 531 Howard (at First Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 618-0141 or visit (Hiya Swanhuyser) Reviewed Feb. 16.

"The Tree Show." We're pleased that "The Tree Show" aims to take "leafy limb love" away from hippies and give it back to the people. Some 22 artists have contributed new arboreal work to the exhibit, including paintings, needlework, and a video installation. No matter how you feel about tree-dweller Julia Butterfly Hill and her buddy Luna, the pieces look compelling: trees as aggressors, victims, homes, objects of desire -- there's no telling what they'll become. Through March 14 at Giant Robot S.F., 622 Shrader (at Haight), S.F. Admission is free; call 876-4773 or visit (Hiya Swanhuyser) Reviewed Jan. 12.

Also Showing

Galleries Amaru Gallery. "Cachondo": Sensuality-themed group show including the work of Adrian Ordenana, Doug Rhodes, Dan Arcos, and Ivan Mancera Oviedo. Through March 6. 510 Valencia (at 16th St.), 552-3787,

Ampersand International. "apparent boundary": Oil paintings by Lisa Goldschmid. Opening reception is Feb. 11 from 5 to 8 p.m. Through March 11. "recent work": Mixed media sculptures by James L. Sansing. Opening reception is Feb. 11 from 5 to 8 p.m. Through March 11. 1001 Tennessee (at 20th St.), 285-0170,

ARTworkSF. "Art Is (Still) Life": Group show of still life work by Christopher Flach, Peggy Snider, Lois Llewellyn, Mary Lou D'Auray, Pauline Crowther Scott, Add Bonn, Sue Averell, Pat Wipf, Andres LeRoux, Phyllis Rockne, Michael Stahlbrodt, Rob Nye, Dimitri Kourouniotis, AnneKarin Glass, Gianfranco Paolozzi, Christian Tsouo-Harvey, and Mira White. Opening reception is Jan. 19 from 6 to 8 p.m. Through April 19. "Cosmic Forces at Play": Mixed media works by Blazin. Opening reception is Feb. 2 from 5 to 7 p.m. Through Feb. 23. 69 Green (at Front), 673-3080,

Atrium Gallery. "Pushing Boundaries": Group show featuring the work of Magne Vangsnes. Opening reception is Jan. 6 from 5 to 7 p.m. Through Feb. 25. 600 Townsend (at Seventh St.), 490-4877.

Brian Gross Fine Art. "Flux Paintings": Robin McDonnell's large abstract canvases. Through March 26. "Teo Gonzalez: Recent Paintings": Opening reception on Feb. 3. Through March 19. 49 Geary (at Kearny), 788-1050.

Chinese Historical Society of America. "Parade in the New Year": Photographs, documents, costumes, and props tell the the history of the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade. Through Feb. 27. $1-$3. 965 Clay (at Stockton), 391-1188.

City Art Gallery. "Back Room: Erotic Art": A huge group exhibit with prints, photos, and more, all celebrating carnality. Opening reception is Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. Through Feb. 27. 828 Valencia (at 19th St.), 970-9900,

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