Jerome Meadows, this year's artist-in-residence at Howard University's College of Fine Arts, is a sculptor of a special sort: He's a statue-maker.
In his good exhibition now at Howard's Porter Gallery, there are no abstractions. Meadows seeks the human -- human faces, human figures and such human feelings as playfulness and rage, love and lust and pity -- in the opaque blocks he carves.
Of all the modes of sculpture, the one he prefers may be among the oldest. Meadows carves directly. He begins with solid chunks of marble, alabaster, walnut or mahogany, and then, using mallets, chisels, rasps and force, subtracts the matter to set free the human forms within. The strength that is required might well leave the work tired, bruised, beat-up. But Meadows' art is poised.
The lessons he has learned from Africa and Europe, from the nameless carvers of wood masks, and from Michelangelo, seem in perfect balance. Also given equal weight are roughness and high polish, the feminine and the masculine, the ancient and the new.
In "Rock Hard & the Liquid Lady," a seductive nude, carved of coca-bola wood, lifts her elbows overhead to show off her fine breasts. The black stone man beside her, his neck and shoulder smooth, his mouth formed by a single blow of the chisel, grits his teeth in rage. This is a set of sculptures. These two works are one.
Meadows' exhibition and the fine show of student work that is displayed beside it remind us again that there is, and has been for some years, a special kind of energy coursing through the art shown and made at Howard. Its passion is intense, its integrity is high, it shows us what it means to be American and black. In art there is a Howard School in both senses of the word. The Meadows show is well installed, as are most at Howard. It closes on May 2.
Betty Minor Duffy, the scholarly dealer who runs the Bethesda Art Gallery, 7950 Norfolk Ave., is showing an exhibit of which any art museum would be justly proud. It is called "The Early Silk Screen." It deals with the period of the 1930s when artists brought together by the WPA first began to use the silk-screen stencil -- not for printing labels on boxes of cigars -- but for making art.
Somehow dealer Duffy has managed to retrieve early silk-screen prints by 35 different artists, among them Kuniyoshi, Moses Soyer, Stuart Davis and Anthony Velonis, the man who taught them all.
These are odd and touching pictures. Many of them look less like works on paper than like oil paintings in which something is slightly wrong. For many of these artists the silk screen was regarded as a "democratic" method of mass-producing paintings. They did not work with inks, as do silk-screen printers now; instead, they used watercolors and thinned oil paints.
Riveters build skyscrapers, demonstrators demonstrate, and factories belch smoke in these small and moving prints. Only a few of the artists here seem to have been committed modernists. It is odd that the New Englanders -- Guy Maccoy, for example, who pays homage here to Braque, and Philip Hicken, who does the same to Feininger -- are in general more daring than the New Yorkers. Duffy's prices seem to me most reasonable for prints so rarely seen, so historically significant. One, by Harry Shokler, a small view of seaside rocks, sells for $5.The show closes on May 10.
This is the first weekend of the WPA's second annual Open Studio tour. Some 46 local artists, all of whom have studios in or near downtown, will be in their studios welcoming the public today and tomorrow from noon until 5 p.m. Maps giving their locations -- the tour is self-guided -- are available at the WPA, 1227 G St. NW. There is no charge. Next weekend, from Friday through Sunday, the participating artists will be those whose studios are in the Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant and Connecticut Avenue uptown areas.
Paying no attention to the line that is thought to separate "high art" and crafts, Sirpa Yarmolinsky weaves objects of high elegance out of inelegant materials: tar paper, for instance, or wooden toothpicks, raw linen, rayon thread, steel wire, wool. Two shows of hers are now on view. One is at the Plum Gallery, 3762 Howard Ave., Kensington. The other is at Fendrick's, 3059 M St. NW.
The artist comes from Finland, and many of her works suggest a half-familiar, textured Finnish chic. The pieces at the Plum, with their rhythmic verticals and subtle undulations, look like field paintings made for hanging on the wall. The color that dominates is a soft doormat brown. Meanwhile, at Fendricks's, Yarmolinsky is exhibiting sculptures that suggest pyramids, corsages and sticks that have begun to burst into bloom. The ruling color here is black, black that is enlivened by metallic blue, silver, green and gold. One leaves her shows impressed at the time she has invested. Many of her works seem to aim at boldness, but all their tiny knots, their toothpicks drilled with holes, their little loops and coils, seem to tie these works to the scale of the doily. The show at Plum will be on view through May 6, the one at Fendrick's through May 10.