"Washington has been good to me. I think I can make it here," said Mildred Thompson, whose mini-retrospective of sculpture, prints and watercolors at the Bader Gallery has been drawing accolades.
It was good news coming from Thompson, a black artist who was considerbly more skeptical three years ago when she came here to be artist-in-residence at her alma mater, Howard University. Prior to that, on advice from her professors, she had spent nearly two decades in Germany, where she had been welcomed into the Hamburg Art Academy, had her first solo show one year later, sold well, received several scholarships and was showing in leading museums.
In 1961, "confident and eager," she gave New York a try, but found herself frozen out of the commerical galleries, even after selling prints to the Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum. "You should send a white artist around with your work," suggested one gallery owner. Thompson bought a plane ticket and headed back to Germany.
In 1975, the artist was lured back to her native Florida by an artist-in-residence grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. "My friends told me to come and see how much America had changed," she said. Now five years later in Washington, she seems convinced, "People have helped me, and I've sold some, had some jobs and several grants, including one from the D.C. Arts Commission, and another from the Hereward Lester Cooke Foundation. Most important, I have a huge studio in an old laundry in northeast Washington that is the envy of my New York friends. It's cold, but it's cheap, and the important thing is that I've been able to work and survive."
She has also been prolific, and her show makes clear that she has continued to bloom and grow. From her poignant, highly charged early etchings, called "Psychological Studies," which deal with subjects like "Conflict Between Friends" and "The Sickness Returns," Thompson's recent work has moved into sunny, Matisse-like watercolors such as "Rites of Spring" and "Song of blooming," which reveal what a splendid and subtle colorist she can be. Meanwhile, she has continued to make wood sculptures, both free-standing and wall-hung constructions, and drawings and intaglio etchings that reveal a continuing concern with sculptural form.
Experimental etching techniques have also kept Thompson hard at work in that medium, and recent abstract prints made from multiple plates include two strong series called "Death and Orgasm" and "Mulibris," the former a recent purchase of the National Collection of Fine Arts.
"I now have everything here that I had in Germany," said Thompson, "except for an etching press. To even want one is a commitment of sorts."
Her show continues through today, but her work will continue to be on view at Bader, 2001 Eye St. NW. The artist has been selected to participate in the International Festival of Women Artists in Denmark next July.
The Organization of American States (OAS), formerly known as the Pan American Union (all still housed in one of Washington's most beautiful buildings, at 17th Street and Constitution Avenue NW) has just opened "Ten Argentine Artists" -- all painters, selected in a competition last year in Buenos Aires. Art critic Rafael Squirru, former head of the OSA Cultural Affairs Department here, helped organize the show and brought part of it to Washington.
Included are some of Argentina's best known painters, though the competition was limited to those between the ages of 35 and 55. "We wanted to help the artists in their struggling years," said Squirru, an adviser to the Pinero Pacheco Foundation, which sponsored the show.
Though small (20 paintings in all), the exhibition spans the prevailing stylistic tendencies in much recent Latin America art, from a sleek (and by now often empty) constructivist-derived abstraction, throught realism to surrealism, still the dominant mode.
The freshest work by far is that of two artists who go beyond traditional academic surrealism to speak more directly of their own lives and times. Eduardo Guisiano from Corboda (a city which Squirru calls the "Boston of Argentina"), is represented by a tantalizing work entitled "The Model and the Photographer's Assistant," a mysterious painting which monumentalizes in oil the sort of minor event more often caught on film. Carlos Gorriarena recalls Washington's own Joe Shannon in a biting but elusive portrait of a well-dressed functionary and his wife (gold rings prominently on display), posing on their confortable sofa while she holds a dog in her lap. The dog is by far the most appealing of the three.
This painting comes closest to direct social comment, and thus closest to revealing something of modern life in Argentina, a subject which seems strangely absent from most of the other works.
The show continues through April 11.
Brower Hatcher's sculptures, now levitating at Diane Brown, 2028 P St. NW, suggest all manner of things, foremost among them an orbit in metal flotsam left over from the moon shots.
Hatcher, who teaches at Bennington College, builds large domed or pyramidal webs of undulating wire, and then intersperses among them cubes or wavy strips of metal that seem to float. They are full of provocative contradictions, for these sculptures are monumental despite the fact that they are constructed from mere wire; and, conversely, have a lightness and whimsy about them that belie their monumental size.
Altogether, this is highly original work, and "Venus Rising," the best of this group, begs for an outdoor site where light and shadow can come into full play. The way Brower has resolved the varied relationships between these works and the ground suggests a more fertile and inventive imagination. Happily, Brower is among the sculptors invited to show on an outdoor site (probably in front of the DAR Building) during the International Sculpture Conference in June. This show continues through March 29.