THE NINE artists in "Nine Washington Artists" at the Anton Gallery do not have a whole lot in common besides having caught the eye of gallery owner Tom Nakashima during a recent tour of city studios. Since Nakashima also is a painter, this was enough. His sophisticated eye was alert to the need for non-thematic balances, as well as contrasts, among the works.

John Figura's abstract painting, "Over and Over," challenges the gallery's narrow space. A combination of bravura brushwork, thick impastos and large, loosely drawn shapes, it embodies a contained energy that makes it feel even bigger than it is. The overlapping geometric forms contrast with open areas filled with swirls and rains of paint; everything seems locked in place and yet about ready to break into kaleidoscopic changes. But none of this would work without Figura's sure-handed deployment of a surprising range of colors--sweet greens and soft blues, rich mauves and sour oranges, deep blacks and blood reds. It is unusual these days to see a young painter use such high-octane expressionist devices in an altogether abstract cause.

In his assemblage-painting "Concept II," Al Carter musters everything but the kitchen sink--spoons, toy propellers, paint stirrers, jig-sawed human heads, resin-cast insects--plus a hair-raising assortment of colors to pursue his intense vision of society's complex and ever-changing formations. I suspect that should he stumble upon a handy kitchen sink Carter would quickly turn it to artistic use.

Sculptures by Peter Charles and Mary Annella Frank establish nodes of measured contemplation in this environment; Charles, with his curious blend of tastefulness and gutsiness in pieces that take advantage of the intrinsic textures and colors of his materials (wood, steel, wire), and Frank, with her paradoxically pictorial pieces made of welded steel. Frank's work is especially engaging when seen close up; she uses plate-steel surfaces as occasions to apply mini-events made of jagged steel parts.

Jeffrey Meizlik's basic geometric forms also combine pictorial and three-dimensional qualities. Made of an unappealing, hard, synthetic, plaster-white material punctuated by dark wax inlays that look from afar like strokes of a painter's brush, they are perhaps too much of a trick.

"Land and Sea," the sole work in the show by Henry Schoebel, is not simply a sculpture with attributes of painting. A freestanding "X" made of carefully sanded wooden planks, it activates the air around it in a delicate, effective way. Simultaneously the wooden surfaces serve as elongated paintings, covered with intricate stylized patterns applied with a miniaturist's dazzle and care.

Judy Miller's work, whether drawing, painting or sculpture, involves a sense of surreal theater that is perhaps most effective in the free-standing trompe l'oeil piece, "View Of." Steven Cushner's shaped paintings, made of row upon row of tiny canvas loops heavily covered with paint, are elegant and rather disagreeable at the same time--a strange combination. Unfortunately for them, Girgio Furioso's spikey, shaped canvases call to mind a lot of better abstract paintings that came out of Washington during the 1960s.

The Anton Gallery, 415 East Capitol Street, is open from 11 a.m. through 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. The exhibition of "Nine Washington Artists" continues through March 8. Ann Zelle's Polaroids

The best of Ann Zelle's Polaroid SX-70 photographs, on view in the Gate House Gallery at Mount Vernon College, are funny, pretty and provocative at the same time. Zelle, chairman of the photography department in the School of Communication at American University, often arranges the small, square SX-70 images in sequences of three. To interpret the mental and visual connections between images viewers are free to free-associate. The strongest sequences concern sexuality and have a controlled bite: pompongirls surrounding an exotic tattooed lady, for instance, or a D.A.R. medallion sandwiched between a bleeding foot and a profile of a young woman.

The gallery is at the main entrance to the Mount Vernon campus, on W Street after its intersection with the 2100 block of Foxhall Road NW. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. Zelle's show remains on view through Saturday.