They come here, they study art and then most of them bolt from the Washington area while the ink is still fresh on their college diplomas. Equipped with energy, ideas and slides of their campus exhibitions, these twenty-something artists head for grad school or the artistic precincts of New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, usually without making the slightest ripple on our local scene.
This exodus, caused by a variety of economic, sociopolitical and aesthetic factors, has been going on for years. But lately there have been encouraging signs that it may be slowing. More young artists appear to be staying in the area, and a smattering of commercial galleries and public arts venues have begun showing their work.
The most recent example of the emergence of younger artists is Rockville Arts Place's refreshing "New Talent" exhibition, which features works by 10 recent graduates of local schools and was curated by Christopher French, a Washington-based painter who also teaches art at the University of Maryland.
What makes the painting, drawing, sculpture and photographic installation in "New Talent" so impressive isn't the artists' skill level. It's uniformly high, but one would expect that from graduates of good collegiate art programs.
The exhibition's vibrancy comes instead from the fresh and engaging ideas that power each artist's vision. Their works are filled with zest, intelligence, beauty and youthful self-assurance of the kind Ezra Pound touted when he wrote that one of the pleasures of middle age is finding out that one was right, "and that one was much righter than one knew at, say, 17 or 23."
Whether these artists will stand the test of time as well as Pound thought he did is an open question. Studies show that only about 5 percent of all the students who graduate from art school each year will end up making a living from their art. But the students included in "New Talent" are at least off to a good start.
French selected the artists, each represented by a single work, from the pool of students graduating this year from American University; the Corcoran School of Art; Howard University; the University of Maryland; the Maryland Institute, College of Art; George Mason University; and the Maryland College of Art and Design. Most of the artists plan to stay in the area, he says.
There are seven sculptural and installation pieces in the show, and they overshadow the three paintings. Stylistically, the works have little in common. Conceptually, they are more akin. Most of the artists seem to place slightly more weight on the intellectual than on the instinctive aspects of making art.
"The Forgetting," by Tracy Jacobs, a University of Maryland grad, is a haunting work made from long sheets of yellow paper that have been wound like window shades onto several rollers affixed to the wall. The paper from the lowest rolls trails down, bearing the word "Remembering" printed intermittently in pencil. The piece evokes a melancholy sense of memories being carefully stored away and then slowly fading with time.
Haegeen Kim, from the Corcoran School, is represented by "Another Two," a kinetic sculpture driven by a pair of electric motors, that draws two large graphite circles on the gallery's white wall. The other end of the sculptural spectrum can be seen in John Crowe of the Maryland Institute, College of Art's "364 1/2 Days Until X-Mas Vacation," a human figure made from all manner of holiday detritus and what looks like globs of plastic insulating foam. Gretchen Van Winkle, from the Corcoran, uses dozens of tiny filing cabinets made from rusty metal and stacked on top of each other to make the aptly titled "Everyone Has a Secret . . ."
There's a minimalist cast to Jeffery Rugh's untitled work of acrylic and graphite on mylar that depicts a maze that looks like the line layout at an airport ticket counter. But this Maryland Institute grad's queues lead nowhere, making it a bleak commentary on contemporary life.
Allen C. Jackson, also of the Maryland Institute, combines black-and-white photography and installation in "Can I Get a Little Help From My Friends" and "Mud Masq." Some photos of a Caribbean-style street carnival hang on the wall, while others hang facing them from the ceiling, forming a microcosm containing countless tones and textures of black and white.
Those same colors are put to far different use in "Speeder," a huge charcoal drawing by Emily Conover, a University of Maryland grad. With slashing strokes and layers of tracklike imagery, she has made a kind of rocket-powered roller coaster that leaves the viewer feeling breathless.
The paintings by Kristen Holder and Alexandra Crain from American University and Enise Carr of the Maryland Institute are beautifully done and skillfully combine figurative and abstract elements, but they have a tough time competing with the energy and presence of the three-dimensional works. It would be interesting to see their work in a group exhibition of works by young painters from around the region.
Joy Wulke at Rockville Arts Place
Rockville Arts Place is also showing "Forest for the Trees," a site-specific installation by Joy Wulke, a sculptor from Connecticut. Her forest made from glass, water, branches and other objects fills the small secondary gallery. But the space seems too confining for it. The sound of air gurgling up through the water in several glass tanks reverberates with such force that it makes coherent thought difficult.
Photography at Hemphill Fine Arts
"Black White Beautiful," at Hemphill Fine Arts, is a superb group show by 13 photographers from around the country. The black-and-white photos of nude women, flora, landscapes and objects share a beauty that is both visual and visceral. Don Freeman's giant, blueprintlike images of thistles and branches are remarkable, as are An-My Le's subtly lyrical little photos of Vietnam's cities and countryside.
New Talent and Joy Wulke, at Rockville Arts Place, 100 E. Middle Lane, through Sept. 4. Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 301-309-6900.
Black White Beautiful, at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1027 33rd St. NW, through Aug. 28. Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. 202-342-5610.