Throughout his more than 40-year career, artist Robert Masla’s work has moved from visionary and symbolic paintings to landscapes, particularly the areas around his studios in western Massachusetts and Mexico.
But, during the pandemic, he created a special collection of work that highlighted often unrecognized essential workers. Producer Dave Fraser caught up with the artist at his Ashfield studio recently and brings us the story.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Throughout his more than 40 year career, artist Robert Masla’s work has moved from visionary and symbolic paintings to landscapes, particularly the areas around his studios in western Massachusetts and Mexico.
But during the pandemic, he created a special collection of work that highlighted the unrecognized essential worker.
Producer Dave Fraser caught up with the artist at his Ashfield studio recently and brings us the story.
Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: Outside his studio in Ashfield, artist Robert Masla stands at his easel, creating an image of a brown weathered barn, with a hint of a white car in the background.
Much of Masla’s work depicts bucolic fields, woodlands, and waterway; images that have spanned a career of more than 40 years.
Robert Masla, Artist: I always had an affinity to nature. I love being in the woods. There was a woods across the street from my house that I would spend most of my days playing in. And so, I’ll often sketch in plein air — sometimes I’ll complete a painting out there, outdoors in plein air.
But oftentimes, it’s more the energy of that environment, that sense of place. Something that hit me about. It could be the light, could be the atmosphere. Many different things that made me want to paint it.
Dave Fraser: In 2020, Masla’s work was influenced by the pandemic, and what he saw as a change in American culture.
Robert Masla: I came back from Mexico — Covid had just started to really ramp up.
And it became really obvious how important everyone is in this society that we live in, and particularly those people that we often will take for granted.
Dave Fraser: Masla created a series of works entitled “Gratitude: The Unrecognized Essential Workers Series” that recently hung at the R. Michelson Gallery in Northampton.
Robert Masla: So, I’d taken some photographs of farm workers — I’ve done sketches of them in the past. The mailman came up the driveway, I said, “William, would you mind posing for a painting that I’m thinking of doing?”
Same thing with other people. My daughter, who is a teacher, I got a photograph of her when she was teaching a young boy — not even a student — reading him a story.
You know, these simple acts.
Dave Fraser: The series of images hung in the gallery in the fall of 2020.
Along with highlighting the everyday worker, Masla also looked at the way social turmoil has engulfed the nation.
Robert Masla: This was after the murder of George Floyd, and communities all around the country were taking moments of silence together, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matters movement.
And Ashfield had organized — a number of the Hilltowns gathered together and walked down Main Street in silence. And then, we gathered on the Commons in front of the church there, and then we all took a knee for that allotted amount of time.
It felt so powerful, that people of all different — particularly in the Hilltowns — were coming together, in recognition of this. I thought, “This is a historic moment. It should be recorded.”
And I took a couple of panoramic photos, went back to my studio, did some sketches, did a watercolor painting, and decided to make a large oil painting from that.
Dave Fraser: Along with Masla’s “Take a Knee” oil on canvas image, he also created a work called “30th of May 2020: Persecution of the Defenders of a Real Democracy.”
Robert Masla: You know, whether I was to paint it really expressionistically, which would have been very powerful, or to keep it more in a representational vein, I chose to go with the more representational collage, like, because it was news.
It is fact. These are things that have been happening.
Richard Michelson, R. Michelson Galleries: We’ve learned that society doesn’t work without the workers, the people on the ground. And it’s about time that there was a tribute, you know, to them.
Bob sees them, you know, he sees them and in his paintings that comes through.
Dave Fraser: Throughout his painting career, Masla says he allows the innate spiritual impulse of creation to dictate the direction of his work.
He is continually drawn to and focused on the landscape, painting in both plein air and in studio. He says nature has played a key role in his life as a teacher, artist, and healer.
Robert Masla: There’s nothing like painting what you’re experiencing there, because when you look at that painting in your journal or the sketch, whatever it may be, it brings back a whole flood of memories because you spent a half hour or an hour or so, not just two seconds clicking a photograph.
You’ve actually absorbed that environment. You know, it engages you with life.