Robert Masla: Then and There, Here and Now
Then & There, Here & Now
Artist’s reception, Friday August 11, 6-8pm, in conjunction with Northampton’s Arts Night Out
This exhibition is a combination of paintings, some done plein air, some in the studio, inspired by Masla’s travels during last few years. There are works from places such as Morocco, Vietnam, Croatia, Mexico, and a number from Massachusetts where Masla resides. His art is a constant practice to find a sense of connectedness to Nature, no matter where he is.
Robert Masla – Then & There, Here & Now – Artist’s Statement
Originally, this show was first being planned in 2019 to open in the late summer of 2020. Of course, change is the one constant in the universe, and although we all know this, it sometimes occurs in surprising ways. This was the case when I had to return early from my annual winter teaching and running workshops at my Studios South in Mexico, due to the outbreak of Covid19 in March of 2020.
This change occurred in a current; alongside the pandemic, our country’s social upheaval was becoming more prominent in the public eye. Vocal and political justification of racism, bigotry, intolerance and accelerated movement toward fascism of the administration of the time, as well as the continued (and continuing), displays and action of its’ followers, pushed me to change direction in response. I am very fortunate and privileged in many ways, so I am not typically a painter of angst or choler, but at times that aspect of (my) nature is expressed in my artwork. The improvised result was the creation of a new body of work that opened in November of 2020, “Gratitude, The Unrecognized Essential Workers Series.”
To paraphrase the ancient philosopher Heraclitus, “You can’t stick your foot in the same river twice”, (I will add for emphasis, your foot is not even the same foot either). I no longer wish to dwell as intensely with my art practice on “The Dance of Shiva”. That is not to say I ignore the mess we are in. I now choose to refocus my attention on my original artistic intention, to See the Beauty.
One might ask, what is The Beauty? Of course, in order to see it, we must also see and recognize the flip side, The Ugliness. I think, given the choice, the majority of us would choose to focus on beauty, it makes life more pleasant. From my vantage point, Beauty is seeing the interconnectedness of all things and the art process is one of the ways that I bring that to the focus of my awareness and experience It. Ugliness, in other words, is a focus on seemingly random chaos and disconnection. Now, (unlike earlier incarnations of myself) I have no pretense of actually knowing how the Universe works, but through my observations of nature and self, (which I believe are the same thing), it appears that chaos and connection exist simultaneously, like the front and back of the same coin. They appear in some incomprehensible organized pattern – beyond fractals, (not unlike a good painting which many painters would say are a series of controlled accidents). Snowflakes are all amazingly different “random” patterns, the leaves and branches of trees or our own very complex bodies are organized chaos. All patterns of Beauty like the infinite random air bubbles that together make the “perfect” sea foam, etc.
We often don’t see the Beauty, the inter-connectedness of all things, and certainly most media and our current social structure and educational systems more often hinder rather than help the matter. Art however can help us to do so, to see and remember – to experience connectedness.
From my perspective art is not a noun, it is a verb. Art is a practice of being in the world, a full time, lifelong practice of dissolving ego. An act of meditation, of coming into, recognizing, seeing and being the beauty. One of the dangers I and we as a culture face, is we take the results of our practice as the goal, thinking there is a destination, we miss the magic of the journey. We have been trained in our consumer-oriented society to seek the pot at the end of the rainbow and miss the beauty of the rainbow, to “take the map as the territory” and “mistake the menu for the food”. Art is not a product, accept in the sense that, as a professional artist, I sell the resulting edifice of the practice, a work of art. This resulting artwork of my practice are markers of moments in time. They document my practice of being in the present moment as much as possible. This is not always easy as thoughts and ego are a constant distraction, but that is the work of artwork. When I get beyond it, it is play.
Creating artwork entails presence, awareness and observation, demanding the use of memory and imagination combined with all the artists’ acquired technical skill, (that itself being a result of patience, practice and persistence or “miles on the brush’ as painters often say). The artist must then infuse all this with their passion – that which affirms them to life, as well as give themself permission to improvise in the moment as creativity is unfolding. We dance in response to all this stimulation, to find the connections amidst the chaos.
In my 50+ years of art practice there have been many strong influences that have affected my ability to dive more deeply into creativity and the present moment both in and out of the studio. Two of these, which are closely related, have been being/painting in nature, (en plein air painting) and travel. When painting in nature I can experience my interconnectedness to the natural world and it is easier to move out of the localized I of ego and into the Eye of Awareness. Because of the rapidly changing environment it is also an ideal situation for rapid growth, where improvisation often plays a key role. This is also some of the reasons I love to travel. Certainly where ever I go, no matter how far, to a distant country or out my front door, I always arrive at the Here and Now. Yet how exciting and fresh is each new here and now moment when brought to heightened attention by new environments and the infinite variety of the new “patterns of energy”. Aside from experiencing the enriching interconnectedness of the vast human family, the change of environmental conditions, light, atmosphere, topography, architecture, etc. of distant lands is always a challenge, the opportunity for both improvisation and being present attune my antennas.
This exhibition is a combination of plein air and studio paintings from the last few years inspired by my travels then and there to such places as Morocco, Vietnam, Croatia, Mexico, here in Massachusetts and other areas in the U.S.
As I mentioned earlier, these are markers on the journey, but Art and artwork can also act as an environment for empathy. I hope that you will find at least one of these pieces touches you, helps you feel your connection with life, reminds you of the place where you experience and are beauty. Art is not something we add to our life when the other “business” is done –Art is life itself. Art will not save the world, whatever that means. Art can however catalyze transformation, touching an individual to connect with their sense of self and ultimate potential, the Beauty of the world. This is the potential to create a wonderful energy field that ripples out in patterns of connection.
I invite you to join me beyond the many words on this page. To take a journey beyond the edge of duality where the rational mind dwells in the desire to separate all things, to name, categorize, understand and preconceive existence. Cross beyond knowing to the place of fresh awareness that is without the intrusion of the egos’ judgements. Meet me in that point of Being where every moment and place is filled with Beauty and is All Ways Here and Now.