The value of a painting refers to more than how much it's worth. It also identifies one of the elements of visual art. Light and dark values are an integral part of almost every work of art.

And there are several new exhibitions around town that shed lots of light on that subject.- At the Loge Gallery, painter Will South relies heavily on value. He enjoys capturing shafts of sunlight as they shine through windows and doors, casting fascinating patterns throughout the room.

When most artists paint a bouquet of flowers, they'll limit their view to that image and ignore patterns of light and dark on the table and around the room. South proves that of-ten times gems of design are overlooked by artists who focus on one image.

To initially understand South's approach, why not take this little test? Find a sunlit window. Squint your eyes. Notice how the interior of the room is broken up into light, medium and dark values. Notice how details and texture disappear. You're now enjoying a sneak preview of what South's paintings look like.

South says he is most interested in creating paintings that seek their own internal order, outside and away from shifting trends, ideologies and critical strategies. "In every case, the object depicted acts as a point of departure for a manipulated surface."

The object is often in silhouette, with an occasional touch of color added. And the shadows cast by these objects are quite wonderful - some realistic, some stylized.

Titled "Recent Patterns," this impressive show includes oil on paper completed during South's recent two-year stay in New York City. While there, he was intrigued by both still life and architecture. His paintings of doorways become semi-abstract, thanks to the shadows cast on portions of them by surrounding buildings.

One of the strongest door paintings is perhaps his smallest - "Village Stairwell." It has been painted with brisk, spontaneous strokes and with a particularly pleasing palette.

The simplified, cohesive design in his "Empire State Building" packs quite a visual wallop, thanks to South's ability to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. The three American flags waving in the wind provide colorful accents.

Some of his strongest interior paintings are "Bentz," "Francis' Studio" and "Geraniums."

South is a local artist, art historian, teacher and critic. He is currently working toward a doctorate in art history from the City University of New York.

The exhibit will remain on display through Saturday, May 18, on the mezzanine level of Pioneer Memorial Theatre on the University of Utah campus. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and during performances of "Sunday in the Park with George."

- K.C. Muscolino also relies heavily on light when creating her cyanotype (blueprint) photography, a "historic" process developed in 1842 by Sir John Herschel.

Basically, Muscolino takes a negative and enlarges it to the same size of the image. She then paints a light-sensitive emulsion on paper, dries it, places the negative on top of the paper and exposes it to ultraviolet light.

In warmer weather, she goes outside and uses sunlight. "On a clear day, with no haze, I'll expose it for about 10 minutes." But she says there are so many variables that the process requires a lot of trial and error.

When satisfied with the results, Muscolino blends the photographic image with a painterly approach by using hand-coloring and monotype techniques.

Her work is highly experimental. ". . . I am pushing beyond my safety limits into areas I have not worked nor have seen others work." She enjoys this open-ended approach, because it allows her imagination to soar.

When coloring her work, Muscolino does not stick to any rules. It's anything goes, as she chooses from oil paint, watercolor, printmaking inks, Prismacolor pencils and/or any other mediums that best capture the mood.

And color definitely enhances her work. Compare "Door I" and "Door II." The first has not been colored. But in the second, the artist has added subtle tints and shades. It's amazing how such a small amount of color can dramatically alter the mood.

Some of her photographs look more like paintings. Two perfect examples are "The Desert Shall Blossom" and "Home on the Range."

Muscolino has both bachelor's and master's degrees in art/photography from Utah State University (1979 and 1986).

The exhibit continues through Friday, May 10, in the Finch Lane Gallery (Art Barn), 54 Finch Lane. Gallery hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1-4 p.m. on Sunday.

- Another photographer, Ruth Thorne-Thomsen, depends heavily on value as she uses her pin-hole camera - a cardboard box with a tiny hole in one end. This "camera" uses no lens.

The exhibit is divided into three sections: "The Expedition Series," "Views from the Shoreline," and the "The Door Series."

The first deals with photographs taken from 1976 to 1984 in which images feature gigantic sculptural heads fallen in deserts and dwarfing the figures that are examining the relics.

"Views from the Shoreline" is a more recent series in which Thorne-Thomsen has cut silhouettes of human heads from landscapes and superimposed them on beach scenes or panoramic landscapes.

Careful placement of the silhouette is essential for line continuity, facial features and contrast in values. The edges of a smaller image could easily be lost in the values of the larger one. However, Thorne-Thomsen carefully combines the two for optimum visual and emotional impact.

Many of her works reek of surrealism. So the viewer is not surprised when Thorne-Thomsen say that her works are meant to evoke archetypal symbols, dreams and myths. "The credibility of the photograph is a myth I rely on to palm off fantasy for reality - at least momentarily," she said.

Thorne-Thomsen's photography will hang in UMFA's Thomas Gallery through June 9. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 2-5 p.m. on weekends. For information about other exhibits currently at the museum, see GALLERIES in this section or call 581-7049.