Jeri Metz makes amazing drawings.
That became clear last year when she made her debut at Jane Haslem Gallery with a show titled "Bums and Other Drawings"--meticulous graphite images of street people, bag ladies and the unforgettable "Levitating Bum Monument," a drawing of a derelict asleep on a marble pedestal. That image was--and still is--one of the most powerful to date dealing with the irony of the street person's situation in the nation's capital.
In her new show at Haslem, titled "Sittings," Metz focuses on the gentler subject of family: her bearded husband, her mother-in-law's 92-year-old mother, her firstborn child Aaron and adopted son Nguoi Amh Ca, a war orphan from Vietnam. Based on photographs but rendered freehand, these black-and-white drawings reassert the artist's power not only as a superb draftsman--there are dozens of those around--but as an artist who can lift photo-realist representation to the level of universal statement. These are highly specific portraits of distinct individuals. But they also speak of larger matters, such as age, youth, happiness and a child transformed into an adult before his time. Metz's drawing of her adopted son joins the "Levitating Bum Monument" as one of her masterpieces.
Though the drawings here are larger than before, their intensity has not been lessened. Several small studies of a dancer in motion underline Metz's additional gift of capturing movement with spare, expressive line. Her talent may have been inherited from her grandmother, who is said to have been a favorite student of Charles Dana Gibson. Metz's show continues through July 15 at 2121 P St. NW. Hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 6. Roger Essley at Fendrick ---
By happy coincidence, another Washington artist in his thirties, Roger Essley, has also opened a show of large black-and-white portrait drawings of family and friends--this one at Fendrick Gallery, 3059 M St. NW. The comparison between his work and that of Metz is most illuminating.
Essley first surfaced here in the 1980 Corcoran Area Exhibition with a wonderfully romantic graphite drawing of a napping man bathed in summer sunlight--purchased by the Metropolitan Museum in New York. In this, his first Washington solo, Essley has switched his medium to conte crayon, allowing a broader tonal range, and more contrastive rendering in light and shade. Though the drawings can be daz-zling--especially that of his grandmother ("Georgiana")--it is not always a change for the better. Some of the most intriguing aspects of the earlier works--meticulous detail and enveloping mood--have been lost to what is often a harsh, too photographic reality.
The move was deliberate, says Essley, who wanted to get past the romantic atmosphere to a real engagement between image and viewer. That engagement is achieved: one is stopped by the eyes staring straight out at the camera--which the viewer becomes. The images begin by projecting negatives onto paper, sketching in the broad outlines, and following up free-hand. But it is often only eye-contact that one establishes with these portraits. One comes away from this show not knowing much--or caring much--about most of the people portrayed. In switching media, this able young artist seems to have lost his own voice--something we'd like to hear again.
The show continues through July 10 and is open today until 5:30, and hereafter, Mondays through Fridays, 9:30 to 5:30.
Hull Gallery: American rints -
"American Prints: 1900-1970" is the summer offering at Hull Gallery, 3301 New Mexico Ave. NW. It is rather an odd-lot of work, but fans of Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, Childe Hassam, John Sloan and others of the period should find a visit worthwhile.
Martin Lewis' moody 1928 etching of a man overlooking the dark city, titled "East Side Night, Williamsburg Bridge" was one of the high points for this viewer, along with Paul Cadmus' boisterous 1934 view of revelers at "Stewart's" cafeteria. There is joyful tumult as well in Glen Coleman's 1928 lithograph of "Bleeker Street" and Reginald Marsh's sassy "Girl Walking," dated 1945.
The show is particularly rich in lithographs by Benton and Curry, the latter being represented by two of his best known images: the mighty "John Brown" and "The Missed Leap," a pair of trapeze artists in peril. Examples by Jerome Myers, Isabel Bishop and Clare Leighton are among works priced under $500. Since the gallery doesn't specialize in prints, it is best to bring your own expertise. The show continues through Aug. 7, and hours are 10 to 5, Tuesdays through Saturdays.