Robert Masla has favorites in his art collection, and most are tied to memories of watching the artists paint the pieces. He is drawn to a particular trait in paintings, one that makes much sense, knowing Masla’s background.
Masla is a teacher, and he gathers artists skilled in art instruction for weeklong stints at Casa de los Artistas, his workshop headquarters/studio in Boca de Tomatlan, Mexico. Masla stocks his faculty with artists who bring energy, passion, and dedication to painting and teaching. When he feels that sensibility coming through in a piece, he wants it on his walls. “You feel it when you see someone who really wants people to get it,” says Masla. “There’s a generosity of spirit — they are not just going through their routine. They really want people to get it. I have always felt that art education is one of the things that really elevate us into a civilization.”
12 x 9 in. Collection of Robert Masla
The first piece Masla chose to discuss was one by John MacDonald. “I met John at one of the first plein air events I attended,” recalls Masla. “He was the juror there, and I liked what he had to say during the show. I looked him up and loved his paintings, and invited him to teach at the Casa in Mexico. He is so dedicated. His plein air work is nice and loose and gestural. There’s an economy of stroke, and I just love what he has to say. The last time he was at the Casa he did a beautiful sketch looking out over the river, and he gave it to me. It’s a sweet little composition, and it caught the energy of the place and the morning light coming across.”
“At the Zocalo, El Tuito, MX,” by Tony van Hasselt, 2015, watercolor, 15 x 22 in. Collection of Robert Masla
Next up is Tom Lynch. “Tom did this watercolor on canvas, a cool product that bridges the gap between watercolor and oil,” Masla says. “I had been experimenting with it for about a year before that; I was really excited to see what he was able to do with it. He’s mostly known for his studio pieces, but he does a lot of plein air. On this piece, he was up in the morning and out painting before anyone else. One of the participants that week bought the painting and gave it to me, which was really cool. It hangs in our living room and started off our collection down there in Mexico. It shows the entrance arch at the Casa, looking out rather than in, with the gate opened, welcoming.”
“Painters Reflection (First Day at Olana),” by Robert Masla, 2015, alkyd and oil on canvas mounted on board, 8 x 16 in.
Last, Masla talked about a painting by Tony van Hasselt. “Tony was probably the first to organize international workshop trips,” he says. “He’s a devoted plein air painter, and his whole thing is getting out there and doing it. The energy he puts into it — to watch him is such a kick because he is literally dancing in front of the surface. He waves the brush like a conductor and hums the values to himself. This view is of a charming town square nearby, looking at the corner of the buildings. He is a master of the vignette. Tony has a particular style of laying down color, one that’s very different than mine. You can feel the joy in his painting. He really loves what he is doing.”