Is Washington full of undiscovered artists who would be rich and famous if the dealers, curators and critics would just give them a chance?
It is a question most artists would answer in the resounding affirmative, and critics (at least this critic) in the negative. Given the proliferation of new galleries in Washington - more than 125 at the last count - and the growing numbers of publications carrying reviews and art publicity, it appears that every new talent (and no talent) between Baltimore and Richmond has had recent exposure in Washington. And the good ones don't go unnoticed for long.
But when Frank Wright, one of this city's best (and least-appreciated) painters insisted that there were, in fact, at least 20 good, full-time artists (excluding himself) whom he knew "to be doing realist painting of stature" but had never had any major attention here, I suggested that he prove it.
Taking up the challenge, Wright last weekend organized a two-day "Salon des Inconnus" in a downtown studio in the Ledroit Building, to which he invited a few collectors, dealers and a (for once) willing critic to see his room full of "unknowns."
Wright made his point, but so did the critic.Among the 20 artists, each represented by two works hung in the tiny space, there were indeed two extraordinary talented and relatively unknown painters, Danni Dawson and Ken Marlow. But Dawson is already beginning to turn up on the Washington gallery scene, and Marlow is only 17, though obviously a bona fide, card-carrying prodigy. Both would have been discovered in due time.
Dawson now teaches at the Art League in Alexandria and has just won a prize from the National Academy in New York for her haunting and spectacular full-length nude portrait shown among the "inconnus." She is newly represented by the Wolfe Street Gallery. Marlow is currently at Yale with the help of a scholarship won in the 1978 National High School Scholastic Art Awards competition. He was represented by a surprisingly old-fashioned, but startlingly good still life. Dawson's work had been noted earlier by this critic, Marlow's had not.
The only other artist known to me in the group was Anastasia Seremetis, whose complex etching plates reveal the training of her former teacher, Frank Wright. In fact, what all of these artists - all realists - had in common was prior or present involvement with Wright or his colleagues Bill Woodward or Arthur Hall Smith, either as students at the Corcoran or at George Washington University, where these three now teach.
There are several good artists in the show, but it is unlikely that mere exposure would propel any of them into a world of fame and fortune. They are, like most of us, in that big, broad middle - not bad, but not spectacular either.
Among the best, however, were John Morrell, now an art instructor at GWU, represented by a strong and handsome "View of Cliffs over Brittany," and Michael Francis, recent GWU graduate and now a teacher at Charles County Community College, who showed a sun-drenched woodland scene, redolent of Wright and Woodward-inspired interest in light.
Thomas Hipschen, now 28 and an engraver at the Bureau of Engraving since he was 17, showed a nice, juicy seascape, very different from the day-to-day meticulous style and required in his designs for stamps and government certificates. GWU instructor Albert Barnhardt exhibited three states of an intriguing lithograph, though it was hung too high on the crowded walls to be seen properly.
As for the rest, let is suffice to say that for the most part, the world is no less well-off for not knowing about them all. It is a big surprise, however, to discover that there are so many artists here who make a living as artists, teachers and designers (seven from the Department of Transportation and one from a local TV station) outside the gallery system. Wright's point is well taken and duly noted here.
Since the "Salon des Inconnus" has now evaporated, frustrated collectors painting to know more might reach all of artist through the art department at George Washington University or elsewhere, as indicated. The next "Salon de Inconnus" is not scheduled to take place within the foreseeable future.
Robin Rose has come up with several elegant new paintings in encaustic on linen at Middendorf/Lane, 2014 P St. NW, very different from - and far better than - the Berkowitz-on-plastic paintings shown last year.
Encaustic is a paint medium in which the binder for the pigment is beeswax instead of oil or acrylic, allowing for great textural manipulation of the surface. Taking full advantage, Rose has takes a minimalist grid and transformed it into a luscious, highly tactile surface by laying on the warm, waxy paint in a overlapping horizontal stripes with a palette knife. The surfaces are then further worked, and, when dry, sometimes burnished to a warm, luminous glow.
In the best of these paintings, the wax has been left its natural color or bleached, thus blending harmoniously with the left areas of raw, deep beige linen. Elsewhere, and less successfully, the wax has been tinted with metallic silver, brass or graphite, although one small work on paper of diagonally burnished graphite, is one of the jewels of this show.
Rose has introduced a trapezoidal form at the base of several of these paintings to create the illusion of depth, but the device often fails and needs further working out. Through Nov. 18.
Kenneth Young is showing new airbrushed color paintings at Gallery K, 2032 P St. NW - billowing, cloud-like forms which seem to imply a gathering storm. Though they sometimes have musical titles, such as "Major Chord," the paintings more often sound a minor chord suggesting Wagner at his stormiest and most melodramatic.
A typographical error in last week's "Galleries" column regrettably sent readers off in the wrong direction in search of "The Creative Line," the delightful new exhibition at the Washington Women's Arts Center, which is located at 1821 at Q St. NW, just off Dupont Circle. While there, and now you know where, don't fail to look at the new 1979 calendar just issued by WWAC, with 12 original prints by members tipped in. An etching by Lindsay Makepeace and a silkscreen by Bodil Meleney make the calendar a bargain at $25.