6 Up-And-Coming Artists To Start Collecting Now

Photographed by Emma McAlary.
While buttery leather bags, luxe facial serums, and glitzy baubles are certainly splurge-worthy, we're making the case that original artwork is the ultimate grown-up indulgence. Once you're out of the paycheck-to-paycheck phase of life, setting aside funds to invest in works that delight and inspire you is a truly adult pastime — but you don't have to be a certified high roller to feather your nest with fine art.
Case in point: Washington D.C. is a hotbed for emerging artistic talent. With several top-notch art schools in the area, countless galleries and fellowships that support up-and-comers, and a creative scene that’s bursting at the seams, the DMV offers a host of opportunities to start collecting real-deal original art. Where to start? Take time to tour studios, peruse artists' websites, pop into gallery openings, and browse the slideshow ahead.
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There are scores of artists with mad talent among us, presenting affordable work everywhere you look — online, at art auctions, and in alternative art spaces all over town. To get you started, we’ve scouted a handful of D.C. artists whose work is accessible even on a modest budget. Our only advice: Run — don’t walk — to scope these impressive portfolios.
Photographed by Emma McAlary.
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
Chandi Kelley
After having the brilliant idea to "bring the artwork to you," Chandi Kelley cofounded Project Dispatch, an artwork subscription service that showcases artists nationwide. It's the perfect entry point for newbie collectors — plus, you’ll fall back in love with snail mail after receiving original artworks monthly.

An alum of the photo program at the Corcoran, Kelley has shown her own work at the NADA Art Fair during Miami's Art Basel and the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, and is represented in private collections throughout the U.S. Following a recent trip to China, Kelley explores her impressions of Beijing in the upcoming D.C. group show "Atmosphere."

To see Kelley's latest work in person, visit Transformer Gallery, 1404 P Street NW; 202-483-1102.
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
What project are you working on at the moment?
“My process right now is more digitally based than in the past. I am currently working on new techniques to further explore the ideas in my last series called "Unnatural Histories." The emphasis remains on the contrast between nature and artificiality, but I am digitally isolating and/or manipulating the objects to make them feel even stranger and less familiar.”

Tell us about your creative process.
“I tend to work with one theme and let it evolve over a long period of time. My current process involves manipulating objects that are of (or reminiscent of) the natural world. Whether through applying gold leaf, spray painting, wrapping, or digitally altering, the objects are transformed into something strange yet still familiar. I also photograph the objects in staged environments to recontextualize them. In my earlier work, I was looking for contradictions as they already existed and highlighting the dualities between nature and artifice. But, it is always the place between understanding and unknowing that I try to access.”
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
What inspired you as an artist?
“I have always been drawn to nature, both in organic forms and the natural landscape. When I first moved to D.C., it was difficult for me to initially find the inspiration that I was seeking. I began focusing on the contrast between nature and artificiality as it existed in my environment, especially where these two worlds intersect and the line blurs between real and unreal. It is something that continues to inspire me.”

What do you love about making art in D.C.?
“D.C. is incredibly generous to artists, and the community is extremely welcoming. There is an energy in every aspect of the D.C. art world — from artists to galleries to collectors — and that is exciting to be a part of. But, more than anything, I feel D.C. offers incredible opportunities for artists through various programs, exhibitions, and grant opportunities.”
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
What advice would you give to a new collector interested in your work?
“I don't suppose it would be very different from my advice to any collector, which is to buy what you love. Collecting should first be about works that you are drawn to, whether the reason is obvious or inexplicable. It can be intimidating for a beginning collector to know where to start, and I just want to make it easier for people to get involved.

"Project Dispatch is a great way for collectors to get a taste of an artist’s work with smaller commitment options, and to explore their tastes by getting a variety of works. I think it is important to have works at a variety of price points. I sell small (unframed) works through Project Dispatch that are $100 or less. I feature my mid-size works that are $500 or less. And, then I have large-scale pieces, which go up from there. I think it gives people that are interested in my work more entry points, and I hope that it encourages collecting on all levels.”

What's the quirkiest tidbit about your studio/working space?
“My studio space is a very multifunctional live/work space. It is a shared space, which we use for our own art making and art storage, and it is also the Project Dispatch headquarters. It is set up to accommodate every kind of creative work that we may find ourselves doing. We also have a separate space below for getting messy, which includes woodworking and painting.”
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
Nekisha Durrett
Nekisha Durrett’s public-art installation at the MLK Jr. Memorial Library last summer — featuring larger-than-life color illustrations — certainly turned heads in downtown D.C. Exhibiting at Arlington Art Center, Hillyer Art Space, and galleries across the country, Durrett boasts a degree from Cooper Union and an MFA in photography. She's also a master storyteller; keep an eye out for her forthcoming graphic novel, O’er Yonder.

Durrett's digital prints on paper are available for purchase through CulturalDC and the Washington Project for the Arts (WPA).
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
What project are you working on at the moment?
“I recently wrapped up a really interesting project for the Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery's annual alchemical vessel exhibition — a fundraiser for the Smith Center's cancer support programs. Artists were asked to transform a simple ceramic bowl, drawing inspiration from alchemical vessels. My process involved lots of layers of poured resin and acrylic paint, and permitted me to step outside of my largely digital process and into a much more hands-on process, which I had become quite disconnected from in the studio. I didn't expect for the project to be so consuming, or to potentially change the course of my studio production, but I think it may have! I enjoyed the tactility and intimate scale, and I’m now thinking of ways to integrate [that] into current themes of my work that I think could be well served by the glossy, liquid-like qualities of the resin.”

Tell us about your creative process.
“The process is often painstakingly detailed and involves lots of sitting and squinting in front of my computer and connecting vector points (drawing). A pretty developed idea sparks the initial laying down of circles and lines, but that idea quickly morphs when I see objects and characters emerge from those shapes that I had not previously conceived. This often changes the course of the intended narrative. I tend to be surprised by the end product, and the result is often a meandering or unresolved narrative. And, I enjoy that.”

What do you love about making art in D.C.?
“The easy access to world-class museums and very smart people in this city.”
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
What inspired you to become an artist?
“Growing up in D.C., in such close proximity to art and culture in the city's amazing museums, I learned very early on the importance of looking to other artists — both living and dead — for inspiration and direction. Without that accessible window into the art world, I'm not sure I would have known where in this world I fit in, what I should or shouldn't be doing with my doodles, and that they actually matter.”

What advice would you give to a new collector interested in your work?
“For studio visits, bring salmon jerky staves for Otis, my lovable but incredibly fearful pit bull who hates company.”

What's the quirkiest tidbit about your studio/working space?
“My studio is in my house, in a tiny office that I share with my partner, who is a realtor. Her profession requires her to be extremely neat and organized. Mine does not. Somehow, we make it work!”
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
Elizabeth Graeber
Elizabeth Graeber is an incredibly prolific illustrator, yet her whimsical, signature style is unmistakable. She's been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Design*Sponge, and the best-stocked bars in D.C. include her colorful Illustrated Guide to Cocktails. Graeber's repertoire ranges from murals and paintings on wood to postcards and clay faces. Need a gift for an upcoming wedding, birthday, or anniversary? Make it personal with a one-of-kind commissioned sketch by the artist.

View Graeber's work in person at Wild Hand Workspace from Thursday, April 3, through Sunday, April 13. Opening reception Thursday, April 3, from 6 to 9 p.m. Monroe Street Market, Studio 8, 716 Monroe St NE; no phone. Shop her work online here.
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
What project are you working on at the moment?
“I am working on a few collaborations, including a book of found thrift-store items with made-up stories about them and a book of illustrated poems. I am also working on getting things together for a show and sale at Wild Hand Workspace and a 'zine kiosk at the D.C. Flea.”

Tell me about your creative process.
“I mainly work in pen, ink, watercolor, and gouache paint. I draw a lot in sketchbooks and always have one with me. My drawings feature animals, plants, food, patterns, and people.”
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
What inspires you as an artist?
“I am inspired by plants, patterns, color, travel, walks, food, and meeting other creative people.”

What do you love about making art in D.C.?
“The museums are not far and are free to visit. My favorites to walk around in are the National Portrait Gallery and the U.S. Botanic Garden.”
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
What's the quirkiest tidbit about your studio/working space?
“I have a lot of plants in a small space, so it feels like a jungle. And, I am always adding more!”
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
Kelly Towles
In his current solo show, "The Death of Ulysses," muralist Kelly Towles woos viewers with small-scale depictions of fantastical stories told through contemporary culture. Prior to this gallery show, you’ve likely seen his larger-than-life installations at U Street Music Hall, Toki Underground, D.C. Brau, and other local establishments, not to mention on buildings and street corners all over the capital. The D.C. native keeps an enchanting workspace at 52 O Street that showcases “artifacts” from past projects — be sure to pop in during the upcoming 52 O open studio days.

See "The Death of Ulysses" today, March 30; Saturday, April 5; and Sunday, April 6, from noon to 5 p.m. Hierarchy, 1841 Columbia Road NW; no phone. Original art and prints available online here. Meet Towles and tour his studio during 52 O's open studio days on May 10 and 11, from noon to 5 p.m. 52 O Street Studios, 52 O Street NW; no phone.
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
Tell us about your creative process.
“For my newest body of work, I really wanted a lot of personal connection and tongue-in-cheek [references]. I love when people relate to my work for the reasons that I do. I start with a sketch on paper — and if I haven't thrown it away — the piece will get inked. I will then break out a canvas and attack it until I love it. If I don’t, I’ll paint over it and start again.”

What inspires you as an artist?
“Truly, this is the only thing I want to do as a profession for the rest of my life. I believe if you have a passion in life, you should give into it. Let it envelope you, drive you. It will make you happy, and if you love your job, it is not a job, in the end. I am inspired every day by the possibility of this as my forever career.

"Also, my family is my everything. I almost always make small references to my family in my work, such as a small tattoo with their initials that no one would even know or recognize. They are like little love letters that no one other than me can read and understand.”
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
What do you love about making art in D.C.?
“I love the fact that D.C. has come so far in the past 10 to 15 years. The city itself has so much opportunity. A lot of my friends have taken steps and become a part of the creative force in D.C. — opening galleries, restaurants, and other amazing spaces. I would not be where I am today or tomorrow without this support system of my friends and homies. I would like to thank them, and, at the end of the day, I’d like to produce work that would make them smile.”

What advice would you give to a new collector interested in your work?
“Do not be shy. I love talking to people about what they like or love. That is generally the way most conversations get going. I try to be a sponge during those conversations, so I can better create work that they will enjoy, or steer them toward finished work that may appeal to their tastes.”
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
What's the quirkiest tidbit about your studio/working space?
“The wall that I produce work on. It is this beautiful mash of color and splatters of paint, marker, and tags. It would very hard for me to duplicate it. When I paint, I work fast, and the wall gets a lot of tests and tags as I try to figure out what the best next step will be for developing a work.”
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
Caitlin Teal Price
Fine art photographer Caitlin Teal Price’s work has already been collected by the likes of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and Washed Up. Her series of intimate portraits of sunbathers on New York City beaches has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Vogue. With a BFA from Parsons and an MFA from Yale, Price is no stranger to the international art scene, but she calls 52 O Street Studios home. She's also setting out on an ambitious new project that’s taking her behind the scenes at the Smithsonian.

Meet Price and tour her studio during 52 O's open studio days on May 10 and 11 from noon to 5 p.m. 52 O Street Studios, 52 O Street NW; no phone. Shop her work online here.
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
What project are you working on at the moment?
“My newest series is a project based on the bird specimens held in the ornithology department at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. The project has only just begun, so details are still coming into focus, but I do know that in addition to straight photography, I plan to use a variety of other media, which will be an exciting change of pace for me.”

Tell us about your creative process.
“Ultimately, each project I work on has a different creative process, but every project starts with a bit of wanderlust and a fascination and exploration of some unknown. I am really excited by the prospect of creating stories and sparking imagination. As a photographer, I take many of my own inspirations from the real world, and I do a lot of searching and observing before I know what kind of story I am going to tell. “
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
What inspires you as an artist?
“The endless number of intricacies and dimensions to discover and uncover in this world are what inspire me most.”

What do you love about making art in D.C.?
“I really like that I have the space to think and to work here. It’s not overcrowded with artists, which I have come to appreciate. In many ways, D.C. is like a small town, and I love that I’ve been able to meet and form good relationships with a slew of really talented people as a result. I also love the access to the big cultural institutions like the Smithsonian!”
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
What advice would you give to a new collector interested in your work?
“I would advise anyone, newly interested in collecting, to invest in what work speaks to her or him on a personal level. Art is about enriching life, and if you find a piece that makes you wonder or dream — or just simply brings you pleasure — I would suggest you welcome it home. It’s an investment worth every penny. In my opinion, there is nothing better than surrounding yourself with the art you love.”

What's the quirkiest tidbit about your studio/working space?
“A bird perches right outside my studio window. She’s the sweetest, prettiest little red bird. I’ve grown attached and don’t want her to leave, so in the mornings I’ve started giving her seed, and she continues to visit me every day.”
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
Chakraphan Rangaratna, a.k.a. TANG
An alum of the Corcoran, TANG brings his inspiration back to D.C. from the far corners of the earth. During art school, he set up a printmaking shop at the Skopelos Foundation for the Arts in Greece, where he officially caught the travel bug and began to base his work on cultural exchange. Now, he not only puts heart into his own art, but he also teaches youth through ArtReach, the Corcoran’s visual-arts-education program for underserved youth in D.C.

TANG's work is part of Transformer Gallery’s FlatFile program. See his prints in person at the first FlatFile happy hour on Wednesday, April 9, from 6 to 8 p.m. Transformer Gallery, 1404 P Street NW; 202-483-1102. Shop his work online here.
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
What project are you working on now?
“I just finished a piece for a group exhibition at Anaba Project, and I’m currently working on new work inspired by my most recent trip to Panama.”

Tell us about your creative process.
“I usually travel to a different country for a month every year to escape my usual routine. During the trip, I keep a detailed journal, then I come back to D.C. and make artwork based on experiences from that particular trip.”

What inspires you as an artist?
“A girl with short hair on a small island and a good rum.”
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Photographed by Emma McAlary.
What do you love about making art in D.C.?
“The support for young artists, sense of community, and Transformer Gallery. Transformer has helped my career over the past 10 years. Also, I enjoy free admission to many museums. I love trips to the Freer and Sackler galleries, as well as the Smithsonian Folklife Festival during the summer.”

What's the quirkiest tidbit about your studio/working space?
“I consider myself to be obsessive-compulsive, so things in my studio must be organized in symmetrical arrangements. Most of my friends don’t believe that I actually make work in my space because it’s so tidy.”
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