Artist Barbara Masterson is not one to rest on her laurels and has recently returned to the Falcon with a completely new set of large, colorful paintings and pencil drawings entitled “Hands That Feed Us”.
Since 2015 Masterson has focused her art on migrant farm workers who travel to Marlborough, mostly from the Caribbean and Mexico, to work on local farms. She said her new pieces are of, “very familiar friends and some new people, although the pandemic curbed my interaction with them the past two summers.” Due to Covid 19 she has worked mostly from photographs that she took of her subjects.
Masterson graduated in 1971 from Elizabeth Seton College with an Associate of Arts & Sciences (AAS) in Fine Art. She then attended SUNY New Paltz, earning a BA in Arts Education in 1988, followed by a Master of Art in painting in 1990.
Additionally, Masterson has studied with Franklin Alexander, Mel Stabin, Christine Debrosky and even traveled to Giverny, France – home of impressionist painter Claude Monet 1840-1926 - to study with Gale Barnett.
Masterson taught art and advanced painting at the Newburgh Free Academy until her retirement in 2014.
Masterson recalled that during a session of painting en plein air, a few migrant workers inadvertently crept into her view and they became part of her painting. Her interest in these workers has continued to grow over the years.
“They have transformed my vision. Familiar shapes in fields and orchards, migrant workers toil in the Hudson Valley doing jobs most American won’t, earning modest wages, sometime risking deportation. Hard at work, they summon our attention and invite us to come closer, to see their labor and their humanity.”
Masterson hopes that through her paintings people are able to see the indispensable role these workers play in everyone’s lives.
“It’s possible for society to confer invisibility on a group; it’s convenient if the group is invisible. We relieve ourselves of concern about [their] health care, working conditions, pesticides, housing and lack of ability to get their own food,” she said. “My work can expand our perceptions of these workers. If only by their images in my paintings, the viewer will come to see these persons for the vital role they have in our lives.”
In May 2019 Masterson received a $2,500 grant from Arts Mid Hudson to create 12 large-scale drawings of workers she knows best, with the initial idea of including some text within the work. As she completed each piece, Masterson found she loved the white space that surrounds each person so much, “that I didn’t want to compromise the white space by putting words in it.” She worked out an agreement with Arts Mid Hudson to allow text to be placed below reproductions of her drawings in a booklet format so the public, “can look at it and think about who these people are.”
Masterson uses a ‘wolff pencil’ for her drawings, which is a combination of graphite and charcoal. She was inspired to try her hand at this medium after viewing a Charles White exhibit at MoMA in New York City. White lived from 1918-1979 and focused on African American subjects in paintings, drawings, lithographs and murals.
“He drew and painted working people and he exaggerated the proportions of their hands and I liked the medium and that’s what it was, wolff pencil, and I said I think I could do that,” she said.
Masterson likes the feel of this kind of pencil on the paper, “and it’s very forgiving, very blendable, you can erase out, get very dark and it’s just very yummy.” She typically draws on illustration board for these pieces.
Masterson said it is sometimes difficult to tell when a particular work is finished.
“I have to get some kind of space between creating it and living with it and making sure that it’s really Ok,” she said, adding that she knows it’s finally finished, “when it stops talking to me. Then I live with it and I turn it upside down and look at it in mirrors to get a fresh eye. It helps me with the composition and if there is some obvious, big flaw that shouldn’t be there.”
In the past the late Tony Falco invited Masterson to exhibit her art work at his venue but this time curator Jessica Brush made the overture, “with a call out of the blue asking if I would be interested in showing in December and January and I said sure and then I scrambled to get ready.”
Masterson said her desire to portray these workers hasn’t waned during the past seven years and she expects to continue painting and honoring these people well into the future.
A reception for the artist and her work is scheduled for January 15 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Falcon, 1348 Rte. 9W, Marlboro.