Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My Mentor’s Name is Alfredo Scaroina: Spotlight on Marthann Masterson

Virginia Billeaud Anderson

As I looked at her recent paintings, Marthann Masterson described the “joy” she felt when painting in the abstract style. She had been reluctant to attempt abstraction, she told me, and had to be persuaded by a friend. “It’s not at all easy,” she said. “A dear friend and very fine artist, Alfredo, encouraged me to take the leap, told me it was time to move into abstraction. Alfredo mentored me, showed me how to manipulate paint, how to mix the materials to get the right consistency and achieve different effects like texture, opacity, transparency. It’s almost a science on its own.”

“I forgot to tell you the name of my mentor. His name is Alfredo Scaroina.”

Masterson said she detects a new “vitality” in her work, and certainly by this she means refinement of technique, a more precise word might be fluency. It was important to her that I understand her proficiency came from hard work and determination. Her only formal training was at the Glassell School.

It’s clear she mastered color which drives her work without dominating it. Looking closely at the paintings, one is struck by exquisite nuance in the skeins of blue and splatters of green that interrupt wider patches of vermillion and crimson. I am reminded of Mark Rothko’s words, "the fact that one usually begins with drawing is academic. We start with color."

Marthann Masterson, Ghost Ship, 2012, Acrylic on canvas, 58 x 38

If color is a point of departure, brush technique brings all to a sensual completion. There are no harsh slashes or agitated movements, yet handling is free and blurry. Although paint application seems fluid, it is not spontaneous. Masterson said she makes determined choices as to how thickly to apply paint. She also programs how much painting medium is required for surface texture.

Marthann Masterson, Aquatic, 2012, Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36

The artist believes prolonged interaction with the works of Rothko and Jackson Pollock subsumes her art. As a child she moved to New York and lived on Fifth Avenue and there spent significant time in museums. Upon discovering Rothko she was seduced. “I saw a painting by Rothko and was enchanted, and had to know more about him and his work. I became diligent about finding out all I could about the artist and learned which museum or galleries had his paintings. I bought all the books I could find and devoured them!” In the same manner she incorporated Pollock.

There is irony in the fact that Masterson’s recent work has a decidedly atmospheric quality, and that Rothko, whom she admired, was a great admirer of J.M.W. Turner’s portrayal of atmosphere, color and light. The art historian Robert Goldwater wrote that Rothko’s paintings are “enormously willful.” In that her fluency is the result of passion and persistence, Masterson’s art can be called willful.

While we were visiting she told me “one should feel haunted by the art one chooses to live with.” Masterson undoubtedly applies the same standard to her paintings, which possess a haunting, somewhat timeless quality.

Before becoming proficient in abstraction, Masterson painted chairs. That unexpected artistic subject, she explained, was inspired by feelings of loneliness. It was early in her career when a gallery owner suggested she create a work of art that comes from “deep within myself.” So she completed On the Outside, an arrangement of chairs which iterates separation and isolation. “It represents a life-long feeling of being different and rejected,” Masterson said, “always on the outside.” On the Outside won a painting competition in Florida, after which it inspired the Sarasota Ballet company to choreograph a piece based on it, and to use the painting’s image for stage scenery.

Marthann Masterson, On the Outside, 2000, Pastel, 36”x 48”

She continues to paint chairs and they have remained the primary component of her objective vocabulary. Masterson considers chairs to be an apt metaphor for speaking about human emotions.

Marthann Masterson, Sympatico, 2011, Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 12

Marthann Masterson, Sympatica, 2011, Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 12

According to her biographical material, Wayne Gilbert was one of the first to give Masterson exhibition exposure when he included her in a group show. So I went to Wayne and asked him what he thought of her development. “Oh, Marthann has worked really hard, she has not waivered, and it’s certainly paid off,” Wayne Gilbert told me. On September 22 Masterson will be showing her art at the Winter Street Studio Gallery, an exhibition of abstract paintings and chair paintings. “It’s my first solo show,” she said quite happily.

Marthann Masterson in her Winter Street studio


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