With a background in IT, Masterton’s move into the visual arts has not come without financial challenges. She has brought with her a unique gaze – a “modus operandi” for picking out details of everyday interaction within urban environments.
Using digital photography, Masterton collages her immediate observations, transfering them to physical surfaces. She then renders intricate compositions with painterly focus, often applying carefully selected textures or abrasions.
While embracing an “ultimate surrender to experimentation”, her work is also planned in terms of its well-practiced approach; a close attention to material use that allows her freedom to deal with scale, psycogeography, heritage, and more recently, rurality.
How is your work connected to the interaction you have with place?
My first step in making new work is taking photographs; responding to the patterns, beauty and ugliness of immediate environments. In a way, I am documenting what I see in front of me; it’s my way of coping and commenting on the world. The media provides amazing information and knowledge but it can be overwhelming. Focusing on place is a way of grounding myself, it becomes a form of acknowledgement. I am not trying to make any great announcements – it’s more about accepting where we are at and looking at the smaller moments in life as microcosms of the wider world.
Does your way of working have anything to do with migration – for instance moving from New Zealand to the UK?
I am sensitive to cultural and geographical variations and I do think of New Zealand as I make. It has such a Pacific feel that is so different to European countries. My cityscapes express an essence of the city they originated from and are a kind of a celebration. But I also consider my own heritage. As a New Zealander, my background comes from the UK and places in Europe; Scottish grandparents on one side, a German great grandparent on the other, a bit of Swiss and English in the mix – it’s fascinating. One can’t help but think about their pasts, their experiences, how they lived, why they travelled.
Can you explain a little about the role of psychogeography in your work?
It doesn’t take much to inspire me. Wherever I am, particularly if I am outside on a walk, I can easily see potential for a new area of work. Often it’s a trip away that acts as a springboard for new ideas. This is when I have my camera and the time to look at my environment critically. I try to get an intrinsic feel for the place and certain things might suggest themselves to me; a piece of literature, music, an idea of the history surrounding the area, another artist’s work. Studying the photographs afterwards helps me firm up a specific subject area to develop.
You speak of the ‘ebb and flow of the painted versus the digital mark’. How does this conversation of materials drive your practice?
It is still a key process. I examine the digital image close up; the markings, layers and colours suggest new possibilities and departures. I instinctively work with this, digitally drawing and abstracting before transferring the resulting image onto a surface. I then selectively draw within it or embellish with paint. I then introduce surface and texture if it’s relevant and have made quite a bit of work with deliberate holes and abrasions, both in my explorations of the city and the countryside. It is a way of communicating the layers and imperfections within the environment and how touch is important to people, whether it’s the walls of an old city or the strata of vegetation and rock in a landscape.
Recently you have responded to the Peak District moorland in your practice. How do you use your ‘gaze’ differently in a rural landscape?
I am out of my comfort zone in a countryside environment. Having backpacked in my younger years, it reminds me of that feeling of being in an unfamiliar place – everything feels different and intriguing. Gazing across a landscape is quite different to say, gazing from Waterloo Bridge or gazing at the ground when walking down a city street. The views, the smells, the textures, the dark at night, the local accents, the wildlife, the noises, the air around me, give me a sense of unknowing. I like that feeling of the uncanny and the fact there is a great deal unknown in this world and universe in general. It comforts me.
Is there a form of concentration you enjoy employing in the scale of your work, both for yourself when making and then for the viewer afterwards?
It’s a mixture, to be honest. Sometimes it’s simply because I am reusing existing materials or I’m restricted because of space, so I keep the work small. Other times it’s a deliberate decision because of the subject matter; if I am focusing on insignificant moments, or small personal observations, it makes sense to keep the work small to reinforce this. Conversely, I have made larger pieces, with subject matter that is more unwieldly. It’s easier to lose oneself when making bigger work, this can bring interesting changes and dynamics. Whatever size the work is, another important aspect is that I like to draw the viewer in to see the making, the marks, the details – to comprehend that there is always more than meets the eye.
Fiona Masterton is this month’s featured a-n blogger at www.instagram.com/anartistsinfo
1. Fiona Masterton, Untitled (1) from The Urban Desire series – 24 x 25 cm Photographic transfer, oil paint and marble dust on found wood, 2015. Courtesy; artist.
2. Fiona Masterton (clockwise) Blue Chapel, photographic digital montage and oil paint on oak block, 26 x 20 cm; Wild Weather, photographic digital montage and oil paint on oak block, 26 x 20 cm; Dog by the sea, photographic digital montage and oil paint on oak block, 26 cm diameter. All 2015. Courtesy; artist.
3. Fiona Masterton, Concrete Glass, digital montage and oil paint on canvas, triptych, 123 x 60.5 cm, 2014. Courtesy; artist.
4. Fiona Masterton, Abstract City 46 x 46 cm – Digital Montage and Oil Paint on Canvas, 2017. Courtesy; artist.
5. Fiona Masterton, ‘Scar land’, Photographic digital montage collaged onto board and embellished with oil paint, 2017. Courtesy; artist.