Keeping the Abstractionist Faith
Rose Masterpol heads down the path of post-Abstract Expressionism with the makings of a
personal stylistic voice in her first local show
ROSE MASTERPOL, ‘CATHARSIS’
When: through May 1
Where: Artamo Gallery, 11 W. Anapamu St.
Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
Information: 568-1400, artamo.com
BY JOSEF WOODARD
Abstract painting is roughly a century old, give or take, given the conflicting information and historical definitions of the medium. It has waxed and waned in critical discourse and public interest in recent decades, and become fair fodder as hip wallpaper for banks, corporate outposts and business offices — citadels of power outside the artworld world. Galleries tend to show abstract work equipped with conceptual agendas or other twists of approach.
But nonetheless, the abstract artistic impulse is alive and well for those who come at it with an open mind. With her fine exhibition at the Artamo Gallery, her first local showing, painter Rose Masterpol throws herself into the abstract painting ring with an infectious fervor. She has a tentacle in the all-American Abstract-Expressionist spirit, and at least the makings of a personal style to call her own.
Masterpol, a CalArts graduate, knows about exhibition life beyond the gallery, in contexts where the art of remaining unassuming is key. She has actually had some of her art in film and TV placements, blending into the background and abiding by the mantra of not distracting from the actors or storylines at hand.
But her showbiz badge shouldn't take away from the integrity of her work. Seen in the contemplative setting of a gallery, it distracts and engages in a positive, aesthetic way. She works in mixed media, mixing acrylics, graphite, charcoal and other materials to suit the impulse — or convergence of impulses — in a given piece.
In “Catharsis,” Masterpol leans into the more or less purely abstract end of her artistic spectrum, and mixes an intuitive sense of structure and composition with a free, organic and seemingly improvisational quality in the blend. In her large, eponymously titled “Catharsis,” for instance, thick gestures and arcing grids combine with unsettled swatches of paint and rough, tactile surfaces. Undercurrents of color underpainting fuels a feeling of energies repressed, but fit to burst, in a cathartic way.
This exhibition’s largest work, “Neutral Ground,” hangs in the Artamo window. Its compartmentalized composition, with irregularly shaped modules containing various artistic effects in each section, almost suggests abstracted pictures within an exhibition, making it a fine introduction to the show inside the space.
Other pieces have a simpler visual tale to tell, virtually using specific color spectra as protagonists. Compared to other art in the gallery, “Creamsicle” is cloudier and, yes, creamier and puffier, merging a yellow-to-gold range of hues with jumbo brushstrokes and a more free-floating structural approach. Sensuality stirs in with an unabashed childish nostalgia, with memories of the ice cream truck's enticing, tinkling music in the implied backdrop.
Meanwhile, green is the thing in “Wonderland,” as a diverse palette of green shades swirl amidst loose, thick, calligraphic black lines, which assert formal rigor, but gently.
In the back of the gallery, Masterpol’s smaller pieces muster up visual energy and gestural plotting, to greater effect than the scale might suggest. The title “Bleeding Memory” leads us into reading the work in more active, poetic and potentially angst-y terms, with its intersections of sky blue and seeping red. Implied meanings also blur and overlap, from a memory of bleeding to the nature of memories and their ability to bleed into our daily lives and inform our decisions in life.
Another piece, “Roadrunner,” has an airier countenance than other paintings in the room, more breathy white space. It also has a freely kinetic expressiveness in which the gestures and musicality of visuals are reminiscent of that forefather of abstractionism, Wassily Kandinsky.
Of course, a century ago, Kandinksy could never have imagined that his then-radical ideas would filter into the art-buying budgets of corporations and banking institutions, where art is for decoration rather than direct contemplation. Maybe it’s time for art galleries to more assertively reclaim their stake in abstract art's fate, when the work is worthy of the scrutiny and patient, close-up reflection. Count Masterpol as a viable player in such an imaginary reclamation movement.