Paintings by Creston artist Alison Masters lead to audio-visual gallery

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  • Apr. 24, 2013 6:00 a.m.
(From left) Gary Deatherage

(From left) Gary Deatherage

Alison Masters made watercolour and pencil sketches each evening after a day of walking during a two-month trek with her husband, Dave Drennan, along the famed pilgrimage path from Seville to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

She had no idea at the time that those sketches would eventually lead to a multimedia collaboration with two other Creston artists.

“We walked 1,000 kilometres from Seville to Finisterre (the coastal town near Santiago de Compostela),” Masters said. ”Every day after we finished walking, I painted from anywhere from 15 to about 45 minutes. I would just find a little scene and I’d used my watercolours and my pencils. By the end of the trip, I had filled two sketchbooks, so that was about 100 pages of sketches.”

Back in the studio behind her Ninth Avenue North home, Masters found inspiration to approach her art in a different way than she usually has.

“When we got home I had all these sketches and I’ve never before been able to turn sketches into paintings,” she aid. “What I’ve always done is gone out on-site with really big boards and painted what I was looking at.

“So, I just started with some of my favourite little sketches and I decided that as a working title I would call them Travel Posters. It just seemed like they were headed in a direction of how you would want to advertise a place if you wanted people to go there — they are kind of happy. I could just see them as advertising posters.

“After about 10 months of painting I had 34 paintings. They were mostly the same size — 2.5 feet by 2.5 feet — and some of them were painted over and over. I’d paint on a board and I wouldn’t like what I’d done so I’d flip it over and I wouldn’t like what I’d done so I’d flip it over again. So some of the paintings have paintings underneath that show through.”

Having 34 complete paintings is one thing, though. Finding a suitable way to display them is another.

“I had 34 paintings and I was starting to show them a little bit in my studio. People would come through and say, ‘I want that painting,’ and I’d say, ‘You can’t have it.’ Do you remember that?” she asked one of the people in the room.

“What I was realizing was that I really wanted to see them all together before I released them into the world. Each painting was so dependent on the other paintings. I would learn from one painting to try something else and there was just a real thread from one to the other.

“I wanted to show them in Creston and I wanted to show them together, but I couldn’t think of any place where I could show 34 large paintings all at once. I started thinking, ‘Well you could sort of make your own gallery.’

“I started thinking of projections. If nothing else we have lots of buildings here. Wouldn’t that be a cool thing to do, project them onto a wall outdoors?”

She applied to Columbia Basin Trust for a grant after calling animation and video artist Richard Reeves to see if he would be interested in creating a digital presentation of the paintings.

“I sort of knew Richard from another art exhibit and asked him, ‘Do you want to be a part of this?’ He said yes, but I don’t even know if he knew who I was!”

The grant was approved, and in September Reeves went to work with his camera.

“He took a set of pictures and he was so meticulous,” Masters recalled. “Then he came back and said, ‘I don’t like these pictures and we’re going to do this again.’ ”

Reeves went to work in his own studio, with only the vaguest of instructions.

“What I always said to Richard was, ‘I want my paintings to be shown in the most beautiful gallery in the whole world.’”

The English-born Reeves created a 43-minute silent presentation. The resulting DVD showed each picture for just over minute. Audiences would see a close-up of a small portion of a painting and then the camera would pan to other portions before moving back to show the work in full. The result was a meditative tour of Masters’ memories of those evenings on the Camino de Santiago, each spent in a small Spanish town or village. The paintings are shown in chronological order.

Reeves has a long history in the animation world and locally has shown short films he has made by scratching images onto film strips. The process is meticulous and time-consuming, made more complicated when he also scratches on the edge of the filmstrip to create sounds to accompany the images. He has traveled the world, teaching workshops and working on projects in Europe, South America and Australia.

For Travel Posters @ the Night Gallery, Reeves used his digital expertise to make a computer-generated film.

“I really enjoyed exploring ways to show audiences paintings within each painting, working to bring out the vivid colours that Alison used,” Reeves said.

The resulting video got positive responses when it was projected onto an exterior wall, on a chilly night, at Adam Robertson Elementary School.  Later, it would be shown at Prince Charles Theatre before a Friends of the Cinema movie presentation.

Setting the video to music had occurred to Masters, but she was hesitant, not wanting “canned or stereotypical Spanish music.”

Enter a mutual friend, who suggested to musician Gary Deatherage that he might consider writing some music for the pictures. He had only seen Travel Posters @ the Night Gallery once.

“I was inspired by it because there is something different,” he said. “I didn’t look at a painting and think, ‘I’m going to do this with it.’ I thought more of a theme.”

He wrote eight short pieces of music without Masters’ knowledge.

“Gary phoned me about two weeks after he saw the video and said. ‘I’ve composed eight pieces of music for Travel Posters. Do you want to hear them?’ I said, ‘What?’

“I went over to Gary’s studio and we started immediately matching the music to images. Then Gary composed some more music and Richard and I went back there and we did that four times and matched 34 pieces of music perfectly to 34 paintings.”

Deatherage is a retired psychologist who spends much of his time in his backyard music studio, Fort Cosmos Studios, which he shares with his son, Jason. A prolific writer of words and music, he used “every guitar and instrument in the studio.”

“I wanted a Spanish feel but not to overdo the Spanish guitar thing. This was one of the few projects I’ve had where I could do anything I wanted to,” he said. “My inspiration was to use a different instrument to give each piece a different sound.”

Not that it was without challenges.

“Writing short, one-minute pieces was quite different for me,” he said. “With any other song I’ve ever written I could go as long as I wanted to go.”

Putting the music together with the pictures was a three-way collaboration. The musical pieces weren’t necessarily written for a specific painting, so Masters, Reeves and Deatherage would listen to the music and then find an appropriate match.

As visual artists, Masters and Reeves both say they see colours when they listen to music.

“Alison would listen and say, ‘That’s a street,’ or ‘That’s a sky, so it goes with this painting,’ ” Deatherage said. “And it wasn’t just her, Richard was the same way.”

With the audio-visual version of Travel Posters @ the Night Gallery complete, Gary and Jason burned DVDs and designed a cover and liner notes.

For her part, Masters’ two-month trek along the Spanish-Portuguese border has continued throughout her own painting process, Reeves’ work on the video presentation and Deatherage’s musical contribution.

She said the unanticipated collaboration has proven to be inspiring, a sentiment echoed by Reeves and Deatherage. They are already working on a second project, with a third now in the discussion stage.

“This has been an amazing adventure,” Masters said with a wide smile.

Travel Posters @ the Night Gallery will be shown in “an evening of film-music-painting collaboration” at 7:30 p.m. April 26 at Prince Charles Theatre. The evening is a celebration of Arts and Culture Week and will include live music by the Howling Wannabes (in which Deatherage plays) and “cameraless animation” by Reeves. Admission is by donation.