Blue Sky Somewhere, (Breaking Up)Masla, “Breaking Up, Blue Sky Somewhere”, oil and alkyd on canvas, 24″ x 36″

Light, clear and bright, is also full of color, the whole spectrum to be precise. But most of us are unaware of this or simply don’t notice it as we often don’t notice many sources of beauty and pleasure being too busy moving about moment to moment thru the myriad of “chores” and “goals” filling our day to day routine. This is not as true for us artists however. Painters, by the very nature of our business are observers, recorders and interpreters of color and light. As a painter and teacher of painting, I am acutely aware of light and our perception of it. Aware of how light is affected by atmosphere, bounces off or is absorbed by various objects and their textures and ultimately affects our mood and sense of being.

Summer Sunset

Masla, Summer Sunset, oil and alkyd on canvas, 36″x 60″

Though I paint various subjects in many stylistic genres, my primary focus and passion for the past 35+ years or so has been the landscape. More specifically, the universal archetypes found within the landscape that are able to convey the depth of human emotion and the non-dogmatic, experiential essence of spirituality. In this pursuit I have always returned to and been inspired by the incredible variety, both subtle and bold, that exists around my home in the Pioneer Valley and surrounding areas. I have often been described as having a very “loud” palette. People have wondered if this is due to my frequent travels south of the border, to Mexico… Where I also have a studio in a small fishing village, 10 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, on Mexico’s gorgeous Pacific Coast. I host people there for an “artistic vacation experience”, where we play, interact with the culture and I (along with renown guest artists) teach them about drawing and painting and most importantly “the art of seeing”.

2 Sailing-to-the-SunMasla, Sailing to the Sun, oil and alkyd on canvas, 12″ x 9″

The quality of light is certainly different there, being closer to the equator it is tropical and on the water. It is often direct, bright and clear. Though one would think that the color is “louder”, more obvious, and easier to see because of bright, warm light, the opposite can often be true. What happens, is our pupils close down due to the brightness of the sunlight. Though, our perception of contrast is increased with the shadows appearing dark against the strong light.

8 Watching-the-Sunset,-Los-MuMasla, Watching the Sunset, Los Muertos Beach, Puerto Vallarta, oil and alkyd on canvas, 18″ x 24″

The range of values and colors that we are able to see, particularly when looking into the shadows and midtones, after looking at the bright light in the sky (reflecting off the clouds, beach, waves or sea) is actually limited to what light can actually reach our retinas through our contracted pupils. Light and color is affected not only by the atmosphere it passes through, but as I mentioned earlier, the objects that reflect or absorb it.

Fall AgainMasla, Fall Again, oil and alkyd on canvas, 30″ x 20″

Looking at the colors on a grey overcast day, or even looking at it pass through foliage on a bright clear autumn day in New England, though of a different “quality”, can have as much, (if not more) bold color as a sunny afternoon at the open air Mercado in Puerto Vallarta. One of the qualities that you will notice during Fall in New England is the bright colors of the trees. In the Mercado in Mexico, they are on the bright clothing, jewelery, etc. of the people. In fact on those grey overcast days, with our eyes wide open, (pupils open), we will see more of a range of color and value. The mist rising off the fields in Hadley MA with The Seven Sisters mountain range obscured behind them on an early spring morning, diffuses the sunrise in variations of blue greenish grey. The effect is similar as when I look up river from my patio in Boca de Tomatlan, as the sun creeps over the jungle and mountains to the east during the moist rainy season. This is not to say there are not differences and contrasts that are dramatic. These contrasts often translate culturally, (as mentioned above in regards to clothing). The long and often harsh and cold winters of New England don’t just open up our retinas, allowing us to see the subtleties of values and colors, but they simultaneously limit the range of colors available to us. Except for the magnificent sunrise and sunset, the reds, yellows and greens of spring, summer and fall are all but removed from our site, leaving us with the “grey of winter”, (which has its’ own subtle beauty).

31 The Western EdgeMasla, The Western Edge, (from my studio),

oil and alkyd on linen, 24″ x 40″,

The cold also can “shut us down”, forcing us to “bundle up” against the elements. If we are not sensitive to the subtleties around us, it can act to further separate us, and can even isolate us from both our environment and from one another. We run from one warm place to another (house to car to shop, etc.) with layers of protection, (separation), on. I think this informs not only our physical interactions but also our more subtle mental and emotional ones. The steadiness of bright light (and heat) of the tropics, create both a sense of optimism (think in contrast of the infamous depression known as the “seasonal disorder syndrome”) and openness (less clothes, less separation from the elements, etc.). In contrast to the typical “restraine attitude” of Northerners, in the tropics the “manana” attitude of jovialness, no worry, taking your time, not rushing, being in the present, as well as the sense of “loud color”, “spice”, “passion” and “vivre” are palpable. I believe this is created as much by the light, strong contrasts, color and heat as it is by the chromosomes of Latin lineage. New Englanders (and even more so their Northern European counterparts) are often described as being externally stoic and “cold” till you get to know them. We are reputed to be sturdy and resourceful (and I have found in a pinch, always ready to lend a hand). I think to our credit, like our Latin cousins, historically we are pioneers, innovators and adaptable to change. Which brings to mind the famous aphorism about New England weather. I often here or find myself telling students or observers when I am painting in plein air at one of my favorite regional haunts like the Summit House, (where Thomas Cole staged his famous painting “The Oxbow”), or Chapel Falls or Mt. Manadnock; “If you don’t like the weather, don’t worry, just wait a few minutes.” The light, like the weather and numerous gorgeous dramatic and subtle contrasts of New England fluctuate constantly, creating an endless source of visual information and inspiration for the observant artist in each of us. Helping people to see these subtleties, whether in New England or Mexico, is one of the joys I get from facilitating art workshops. How this is successfully translated into the “bold” palette of my paintings is attested by the fact that my artwork is not only in the collections of private individuals, corporations, hospitals, etc. but has been chosen to represent the New England region on the covers of DVD documentaries, books, and in magazines. I think one of the greatest compliments I’ve received over the years (and I repeat this with both a sense of pride and deep humility), has been when I bump into a friend, acquaintance or collector on the streets of Northampton, MA or in a restaurant and they say to me; “Hey, I wish you were there, because the other day I saw the most incredible “Masla sky” or “Masla sunset”. Though I know I really can’t take any credit for the phenomenon they had observed, it is these moments when I know for sure that my colors are not that far from home.

Sunset over the Field 8.8x17.5 72dpiMasla, Sunset Over the Field, (behind my studio), oil on prepared paper, 12″ x 24″