"Let there be Light"
Barry Masteller's ''Paintings'' at the Claypoole-Freese Gallery mark a new direction for this artist. The new work consists of medium-sized canvases that are almost abstract, except for their resemblance to pools of water illuminated by a mysterious light source.
Masteller's previous body of work depicted large ochre walls with various openings - windows, gates, chinks - into a black void. Masonry, sills, cracks and obscure symbols populate these older paintings like protagonists in a story. Self assured brushwork completed forms and depicted various textures such as stone, stucco and wood.
Studying such paintings now involves a process of believing the mass, the presence, the truth, of the enigmatic facades, and allowing the symbols to live and communicate in the illusionary realm.
Technically, those paintings were precisely worked; Masteller's systematic brushwork established dappled, lively surfaces that communicated the appropriate material texture effectively.
As it is with many painters, though the outward form changes over time, the interior concerns, emotional or spiritual, frequently remain the same. Painters who grow seek new ways of communicating on the visual level; it's not that old ways get played out, but the newly-discovered methods and ideas are just too enticing to ignore.
Masteller's previous paintings with their dialogue between the substantial and the infinite, paved the way for the current selection; the distinct materiality of stone wall is replaced by the distinctly immaterial ripple of water, the infinite black void is superseded by a shimmering light. Imposing darkness replaced by evanescence.
This exhibition of current paintings, all sequentially numbered "Natural Occurrences'' amounts to an investigation of new methods that herald a transition for the painter. While the sobriety and seriousness of past work remains, the means have changed.
Most noticeable about the new paintings is the placement of the earlier works' solid forms, such as stone walls or the gaping maw of the infinite, with the inconcrete surface of water.
Vigorous strokes of a pigment laden brush, sweeping horizontally, building up layers, develop the basic ground. Graduated areas of darker tones suggest depth - both of water and pictorial space. Literally marking these surfaces are brushy zigzag strokes of black or other dark tone that activate the highlights on these water surfaces.
It is the verve in these zigzag slashes that catalyze the paintings, but their pictorial roll as shadowy ripples detracts from the painterly effect. Accumulations of strokes and layers build to charged-up levels; the readability of image, actuated by the brushy ripples defuses the paintings.
Masteller has always been rooted in tradition. A meticulous craftsman, he paints the surface of canvases in a characteristic system of related colors. Subtle color chords blend visually, textures and forms and pictorial space get irrefutably described.
Furthermore, his new paintings, essays in traditional oil technique, appear to have Turner and
Monet as inspiration. The Englishman's all-consuming light, making ephemera of both stone and sea, filter through several works; Monet's "Water Lilies'' and the famous comma-brushstroke can be discerned in. first, the high vantage point, and second, the interaction of brushstrokes, as in `'Natural Occurrence 9.'' In the `'Natural Occurrence'' series, the painter has, on the one hand, expanded his gesture of paint and closely approached the untapped well of pure abstraction, on the other the references to water and pool and reflection root the viewer to historical and psychological terra firma.
There seems a struggle of purpose here, are they surrealist images or documents of pure painting activity?
To where does this water in the "Natural Occurrences'' flow?
Rick Deragon, Art Critic, Monterey Herald 1990
All text and images contained on this site copyright: Barry Masteller 2012