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GROUP ART exhibits and summer seem to go hand in hand. You'll find at least a dozen of them in galleries in and around downtown Salt Lake.

These shows might not sound very exciting - just more of the same by artists whose styles you're familiar with.But let me tell you, these exhibits are filled with a number of surprises - thanks to artists who continue to develop their individual styles and master their mediums.

- WHEN I STOPPED BY the Pierpont Gallery last Tuesday, I found myself between shows. Robert Fowler's watercolor exhibit had just been taken down; works by gallery regulars were bunched together at the south end of the gallery. Nevertheless, even in this cluttered state, some of the new works were eye-catching.

"Deep Sleep," a four-piece ceramic sculpture by Nicholas Bonner, is highly characteristic of his abstract style. It also reflects the artist's great love for clay. In his own words, the artist said this expressive material "is an immediate way of recording what goes on in my head."

Bonner's most recent pieces are not on display here. However, the gallery has several slides of them. You'll be surprised when you look at these larger-than-life abstractions sculpted in materials other than clay.

Photographs have always been the surface upon which Susan Makov has created. As her innovative style continued to evolve, she covered more and more of the photographs with paint. In fact, some people would be surprised to find out that a photograph was hiding under all those layers of paint.

In her most recent work, as seen in the Pierpont Gallery, Makov has divorced herself from using photography as the base. Instead, she works directly on blank paper.

This approach is both colorful and refreshing, thanks to her use of brightly colored pastels and newfound freedom from restrictions imposed on her by photographic images.

At first, Jon Bowcutt's stylized painting "Nakamura's Bowl" might not seem significant. But this is a transitional piece. Over a relatively short period of time, the artist's style has moved dramatically from representation to abstraction. In fact, few objects in his most recent works are recognizable.

Anyone interested in seeing this transformation in his styles should not look only at his paintings on exhibit but should ask to see other works stored in the back room of the gallery.

- DOWNSTAIRS, in the Courtyard Gallery, viewers will become fascinated immediately with the glass marbles of California artist Steven Maslach. He creates them by pinching off small pieces from heated glass canes and rolling them into spheres. Bands of color swirl inside these transparent shapes, adding intrigue and excitement to these small works of art.

Don't leave the gallery before seeing the clever animal creations by ceramist Tom Hatton of Bonita, Calif. Although a few are on display in the gallery itself, more of them can be seen in the back storage area. They include a pig pitcher and cups, saucers and creamers shaped like dogs and cats.

- GALLERY REGULARS show off many of their most recent works at the Dolores Chase Gallery. Brian Kershisnik is not abandoning his popular style, only expanding it. His new approach is probably the result of the artist's move to Texas, where he is currently pursuing a master of fine arts degree at the University of Texas in Austin.

Theodore Wassmer adds his unusual style to the gallery offerings with his sketchlike paintings, in which he combines acrylics, watercolor washes, Chinese white and pen-and-ink. Incidentally, his retrospective exhibit is now being featured at the Springville Museum of Art.

Dolores Chase will hold a reception honoring Wassmer at her gallery on Sunday, Aug. 5, from 1-3 p.m.

Although Michael Woodbury's paintings are visually impressive, he has definitely been influenced by Bruce Smith, Wulf Barsch and other BYU art professors. But he's a young artist and still has plenty of time to develop his own personal style.

Woodbury received a bachelor of arts degree from BYU last January.

- LINDA SOUTHAM also has a few surprises for gallerygoers.

She is representing a couple of new artists, including Nicloa Markov from Bulgaria. A former set designer and graphic artist, Markov recently immigrated to America and is living with a relative in West Yellowstone.

I spotted three of his paintings in the gallery's storage area and was immediately attracted to his sense of design as well as his cubistic style.

Two of these untitled works were painted to hang as a pair. Interestingly enough, it doesn't matter which one's on the left and which is on the right, since Markov had designed the lines and colors along the sides to flow together either way.

Other gallery artists whose most recent works are more mature and refined than their previous works are Russell Case, Graydon Foulger and George Handrahan.

Case appears to be in complete control of the watercolor medium; he knows exactly what this fickle medium can and cannot do. He's also an expert at glazing. This enables him to subordinate areas that could easily compete with the focal point for attention.

In "Francis Zimbeaux's Garden," Foulger painted flowers with vigor. The oil painting reveals a confident, comfortable approach that has not visibly surfaced in many of his earlier works.

Handrahan is filling his recent landscapes with more light and warm color. Even his snow scenes, which could easily have been filled with cool colors, are enveloped with warmth, as sunlight reflects off the snow.All of the group shows listed above continue at their respective galleries through August.

The Courtyard and Pierpont galleries are located at 153 and 159 Pierpont Ave. (363-4141, 363-5151). Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Summer hours at the Dolores Chase Gallery are noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. For more information, call 328-2787.

The Southam Gallery, 50 E. Broadway, is open 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call 322-0376 for details.