Elaine Kurtz is a rare species these days -- a prize-winning illustrator who has successfully transformed herself into a first-class abstract painter. Her new work has just gone on view at Osuna Gallery, 2121 P. St. NW.

Washington played a major role in Kurtz's metamorphosis. In 1966 she moved here from Philadelphia and studied with color painter Tom Downing at the Corcoran. After that she became a full-time painter, working with flat, hard-edge geometric formats -- often in pairs or fours -- but always concerned chiefly with color and color illusions, specifically the changes that take place in color when its environment is changed. By 1978, Kurtz was showing at Martha Jackson in New York.

In the show at Osuna, Kurtz's most recent cycle of work, "White Spectrum Series," reveals an artist at full maturity, making a distinctive statement about color's ability to warm even the coldest minimal abstraction. For from these paintings, which appear at first to be all-white squares bordered with a band of white, there gradually emerge glowing, billowing color masses that melt the hard edges away.

These "presences" of light and color are the result of complex and carefully calibrated layers of sprayed and spattered pastel color, which mix in the eye to give a balanced glow.

The paintings inevitably call up recollections of the billowing color paintings of Leon Berkowitz. In my view, however, Kurtz has achieved what Berkowitz seems to be heading for -- a containing geometry. Despite the control, however, the end result is art to warm your eyes on, and the surfaces get more fascinating the closer you get.

Kurtz's first Washington solo exhibit continues through March 8.

Also on view at Osuna, in the rear, are a group of watercolors by Bruce Lauritzen of San Francisco, all depicting giant feathers floating over various bits of landscape. In "Shorebird Feather," the setting is the sea, and the painting stands on its own. A whiff of California whimsy is the best excuse for the rest of these works, however, the biggest chuckle going to "Cow Feather," a spotted feather floating over a field of similarly spotted cows. If you like feathers, this show should tickle you.Through March 8.

At Middendorf-Lane, 2009 Columbia Road NW, Jane Dow is having her first major exposure since "Five + 1," the talent show organized by Jane Livingston at the Corcoran in 1976. Dow has come a long way in the interim -- and she had a long way to come. Though she still uses very minimal means, the work is increasingly handsome to look at -- there was virtually nothing to look at before -- and it has an intelligence and integrity that command respect.

For the past two years, Dow has limited herself to drawing circles with graphite, exploring the various effects the graphite can produce when used on different grounds -- plain paper, and paper treated with watercolor, gesso or acrylic paint.The range is surprisingly wide, from velvety black to a disembodied silvery shine. She has also used graphite to work paper from the back, producing a "blind" relief on the front.

Inevitably, Dow has moved on to attempt larger, frankly more interesting formats by adhering paper to canvas, painting it, and then working her circles, taking advantage of breaks and tears in the paper to add textural interest. "Rustle," a rust-colored canvas with white paper, incised from the back, is particularly strong. Dow's show continues through February.

Great neighbors don't necessarily make great artists. Or at least that would seem to be the message of the current show at Zenith Gallery, located in the carriage house at the rear of 1441 Rhode Island Ave. NW. "Zenith Presents Zenith" includes examples of work by the artists and artisans, professional and amatuer, who happen to inhabit the behive of activity called the Zenith complex. This unjuried array of works looks like nothing more than a high-class garage sale, and such a mix does none of the artists credit. Persistence, however, will turn up a few things worth looking at.

Margery Goldberg, founder and pilot light of the Zenith complex, stands way out with her handsomely rounded wood sculpture "Majesty," while Tony Beverly's wooden boxes make you want to see more. Upstairs, interior designer Tony Lewis is showing a most extraordinary free-form desk/bookcase that should snag some Nakashima-admirer, while Ken Wyner's photograph of his daughter conjures the photo-secession. Gordon Kray's bronze portrait of himself hanging over a pedestal is impressive. His portrait of Pope John Paul II, however, seems rather out of place next to the stuffed dollies called "Boobsy Malone" and "Joie Devivre."

There are other good things, along with some of the worst paintings to turn up on a gallery wall in recent memory. Zenith itself, however, is always worth a visit, and the vitality of the community there is contagious. Through March 30.

Print collectors who would like to watch a work of art being made, and then buy it, will be interested to know that Montgomery College, at the Rockville Campus, has organized just such an event. Starting Monday, lithographer Robert A. Nelson (who recently showed his imaginative fantasies of birds trailing light bulbs and other wonders at Bader Gallery) will conduct a week-long workshop during which he will create a color lithograph and produce an edition of 50 prints.

The prints will be offered for sale at $175 each. All who are interested are invited to a slide lecture by the artist on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 8 p.m. in the music recital hall of the Rockville Campus.Further information is available from John Driesbach at the college, 279-5118.