Paint as Language: A review of Barry Masteller's Boulevards

25 August 2009
By Laura Graves

In a time where the future remains uncertain, the past shines through with the glow of familiarity and stability. Featured from May 29 to August 22 in the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University Barry Masteller's, Boulevards takes on a new luminosity as prospects in our community take on darker hues. Barry Masteller's subtle transitions from light to dark, using a technique called sfumato, apply not only to his transition of color but also to his exploration of emotion. Such skill remains effective in a society that has witnessed a rapid, nearly imperceptible change of its own- between a favorable and unfavorable economic status. Originally used by Leonardo Da Vinci for fine details, Barry Masteller revitalizes sfumato to great effect to apply not only to the transition between the lights and darks of his palette but also in the fine, untold emotions these colors explore. Just as these cityscapes are familiar and at the same time foreign so too do they resonate with each individual viewer and yet remain mysterious.

What could be timelier than an exhibit revisiting memory in an unstable world? Barry Masteller explains that, "My images are not of real places but of the imagined, felt or memorized places of the mind." The viewer is asked not just to explore Barry Masteller's individual streets, but also the roads of his or her own memory. As the artist works with the autumn colors so characteristic of the Monterey Peninsula Tonalists, one may discover one's own autumn tinted moments if they are out there. Can we know what makes memory so appealing? While in the paint itself Masteller has created something concrete he has captured moments that are ephemeral. These moments vary from viewer to viewer as we too; wander our own hidden boulevards seeking hope in the horizon- or in the light over a steel railroad bridge.
It is true that Barry Masteller's exhibit, Boulevards, has a dark, unsettling, and at the same time, candescent quality. Perhaps the answer to this balance lies in Masteller's statement, "I believe painting is like language and paintings like words, each making up a kind-of vocabulary whose meaning becomes clearer or at least more complete with each subsequent work." There is an emotional quality explored behind the chiaroscuro technique but conceivably it's unsettling because the colors are like language. The tints of colors become words and the shading becomes sentences, which one may or may not comprehend. Are the cityscapes filled with tension because of their autumn tones or because they are trying to speak to us? Just as Barry Masteller used layers of paint to create the works most recently on exhibit at the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum, so too did he layer recognizable symbols such as street lights with colors that disturb certain sets of emotions, perhaps untouched, within an individual. The exploration of community and isolation are well supported by the failure and success of painting as vernacular.

All text and images contained on this site copyright:  Barry Masteller 2012