Potent Symbols

In many ways, painting can be like poetry and other written forms of expression in its power to generate truthful experience through suggestions, omissions and fleeting imagery.
  Representational painting - painting that depicts realistic and recognizable scenes - relies on the symbolic content associated with people, things and situations much like literature relies on symbols to convey meanings.
  In literature, words, carriers of symbolic messages, are gathered together in sentences, piled up in paragraphs, strung together in epic stories.
  We read words with their symbolic associations, and build up scenes and events and characters in our minds, and gradually a story unfolds. Similarity, representational painting joins objects and persons in a picture plane and we are left to decipher the interrelationships among these.

    Barry Masteller's paintings, decidedly representational, have many of the evocative qualities of narrative stories because of the interaction of paint, symbol and composition. Thematic connections surface to form provocative insights about alienation, entrapment, loneliness and the nature of fate.
    In Masteller's recent paintings - the exhibition could be titled the same as the large keynote piece,  “Place, Purpose, Myth, Magic and Being” - we are confronted with potent symbols that act much like electrical poles.
    Each symbol stands side-by-side as half of a diptych, singular, charged. The viewer enters the area of the images' influence, the radius for viewing, and provides a connection for the two poles. The viewer brings a well of personal associations to bear when “reading” the representational paintings.
     In the exhibition, several motifs reoccur. A twisting vine against a wall of dense pictorial space is frequently depicted, and often has a snake echoing the twisting tendril as it, too works across the picture.
      Windows and networks of branches appear; both to both conjure up a stifling, almost airless realm fraught with tenuous balance and a delicate nature, a fragile world.

 A shallow pictorial space, frequently emphasized by stonewalls parallel to the picture        plane, establishes the same sort of boundary as the reoccurring window motif.
      The windows are dark inside but illuminated from the outside, the light inside can't sustain life, for the figures silhouetted in the internal glow dematerialize and become ghost - like.
      Telling, also, is the reoccurring figure laboring to pour a liquid from a large mouth pitcher. Sturdy, yet looking worn and barely up to the task, the female figure leans over as she pours. The pose and action bespeak of toil and fate, a female Sisyphus in an eternal nightmare.
The series recalls the turn - of - the - century symbolist movement, with its hyperawareness of potent symbols, as the surrealists artists who delighted in juxtaposing disparate things to send the viewer reeling into a dark, personal world of myth and magic.
Rick Deragon,  Art Notes Monterey Herald 1994

All text and images contained on this site copyright:  Barry Masteller 2020