Mike Giron, professor of art at Bellevue University, is glad he scheduled an exhibit of former students at the RNG Gallery because that next step in an emerging artist’s career is often hard to come by after graduation. 9 , which continues at the gallery through March 6, consists of exactly that many artists who, among others, made a lasting impression on Giron over the past 10 years while teaching at Bellevue and Metro Community College. The exhibit features the mixed media work of William Holland (watercolor and ink), Mario Gallegos (oil painting), Vivian Kvam (photography), Tafadzwa NDoda (charcoal drawing), Fredy Rincon (watercolor and oil), Shawnequa Linder (painting), Valerie Eich (clay pottery and imprints), Jeff Carnal (oil painting) and Donald Thayer (oil painting). “Their talents and artistic temperaments set them apart from the mainstream of students,” Giron said. “One of the most gratifying aspects of teaching is to see people you’ve worked with pursuing their dreams. I thought it important to mount this exhibition outside of the academic setting and at RNG where many new names and edgier art have been shown. “One of 9’s featured artists, Valerie Eich, is on course currently to finish her degree at Bellevue. She is an example of the creative environment first established in 1973 by Les Bruning (former department chair) who has influenced many artists to follow their bliss. Valerie’s experimental work with clay and cast metal type imprints convinced me she is ready to move out to the gallery.” Having the benefit of a college education is no guarantee of either significant work or a successful career, but it does give one the opportunity to network and be seen, always the next step for any emerging artist. Overall, predictably, 9 is less than the sum of several good parts, which is the nature of group shows that lack a strong singular vision or concept. There is a mixed bag of talent here as each artist struggles to find a voice or style and improve on technique. While no new media is present, some of the art is abstract, experimental, and never merely imitative or decorative. Gallery One highlights Holland, Gallegos, Kvam, NDoda and Rincon and probably represents the most accomplished work in the show, at least at this point in their careers. Holland now dabbles in the abstract and the surreal with his ink and watercolor, which appears more sketched than painted. “Dabbles” because most of his pieces appear to be unfinished with the merest suggestion of an animal figure and graphic pattern floating in the foreground on a nondescript background. Holland makes good use of white space in this reductive method, drawing attention only to what he considers significant in his imagery. Consequently, the work is often more interesting visually than conceptually as he offers few clues for interpretation. His simplest piece, The Two, may also be his most successful because the eye is readily drawn into the frame to focus solely on his subject, an embedded figure and pattern possibly in conflict over mind and heart. Gallegos displays an affinity for the voluptuous pin-up like figures of another of his mentors, artist/instructor Wanda Ewing. But unlike Ewing’s expressionistic caricatures, which are stylin,’ satiric and center stage, his nudes are more contemplative and self-assured. "Elisabeth & Dead Sea Scrolls 2" is a bit posed and self conscious, but "E. & D. S. S. 1" is nicely unassuming as his female figure appears lost in thought and just fine in her own skin, nestled as she is under a blanket of her own comfort zone. His telephoto POV and tight cropping off the frame of his figures is paradoxically voyeuristic and detached. It’s like being close to something or someone, but from the vantage point of a zoom lens. Among the more experimental in this eclectic group is Kvam, whose black and white and sepia tone figurative photography is formal in structure and exotic in tone. The imagery is provocative as the dominant motif is one of women “boxed” in, at least symbolically. Only the titles, "Solace," "Silence" and her three "Psalms" seem a bit strained. Though the former two are a bit diffused and fuzzy, the women within, consoling each other, are nicely vulnerable and expressionistic. Yet the latter three pigment prints are more interesting visually as Kvam cleverly lights and composes her women so that mostly their arms and legs, all akimbo, are only visible as they too appear to struggle with what constrains them. NDoda, otherwise know locally as TG, once again offers his by now familiar nude figure studies. There are very few in this area who draw and do justice to the human figure and face as he, especially with such pieces here as "Wiggle Your Big Toe" and "Rebecca Sleeping," rendered in beautiful charcoal detail. But we have seen work such as this from him for some time. Ironically, perhaps the most interesting one, the aptly titled and more abstract “Shapes & Shadows” was done in 2005, an approach that may deserve experimentation again. One of the strongest personal visions in this exhibit is that of Fredy Rincon who explores in strong expressionistic imagery his Mexican heritage and culture. Some of the work is a bit obvious as with "Now That I Am Rich," which features a sombrero-hatted hombre huddled around a bottle and the too decorative Dia De Los Muertes skull. But his large horizontal narrative "Execution" tells its own folk story of oppressive death by a skeletal firing squad in broad, gestural strokes. Two additional watercolors, "Santa Muerte" and "Life That Death" Gives are more delicate and subtle renderings of the paradox of The Day of the Dead, both quite colorful, festive and menacing. One look at the variety of abstract work from Shawnequa Linder and you may conclude that she is a work in progress, still looking for a clear focus and direction. Her art is pleasant enough, but her two most confident pieces are the more conceptual "3 White Chairs" that feature objects floating on an orange acrylic on wood background. And the second is the more aggressive "Decay on Board," a faintly representational landscape suitably done in earth tones, grays, whites and blacks, all a very pleasing combination of design and texture. Eich offers the only clay work here and her several fired and glazed vessels are quite nicely proportioned and formed, no two alike, many sporting corks. Her work is understated, elegant and feminine, not the least bit ostentatious and all the more professional because of it, especially her two “melting pots,” one a single, the other a pair. Only her five or six breastplates, broken and battered, seem more obvious, interesting in form and concept, but whose etched and textural pattern and painted aesthetic is just too busy. The darkly surreal and expressive oils of "Carnal" have merit, yet his centerpiece, "Soul Portrait," suffers from overkill with its excessive imagery and allusions. Conversely his "Creative Pressure" plays the suffering artist card more effectively with its simpler and carefully composed narrative. On the other hand the nicely liquid and sculptural untitled paintings of Thayer would benefit from some sort of scenario and more focused design in order to provide the viewer an entry point. As such, despite their very cool palette, they remain a bit too detached and decorative. The curator Giron has always organized interesting exhibits at Bellevue’s own campus gallery, many of which featured its larger community, cultural connection. 9 was the next logical step in the process, and not coincidentally it favorably reflects his influence as both mentor and artist. 9 continues until March 6 at the RNG Gallery, 1815 Leavenworth St. (use the Dixie Quicks entrance). For details, go to dixiequicks.com.