Fine Art: people travel the world to see it. From Picasso and Van Gogh, to Pollock and Matisse, there seems to an innate desire in so many of us to see beautiful artwork up close and in person. Though there are those whose work will never go out of style, the artistic landscape is constantly changing, and every day there are new artists who are being recognized and celebrated.
It may often feel as though we have to travel to major metro areas to find this artistic talent; however, I’ve learned that with a little research, fine art can be found anywhere. Tucked away on Pineapple Ave. in the Eau Gallie Arts District lies Erika Masterson’s fine art photography gallery. Her gallery is a converted, Florida style home that she shares with her husband, who runs an audio company. Inside you’ll find, not only her artwork, but also his audio equipment. It’s a creative space in where fine art, technology and music are combined.
Though so much is taking place inside this space, Masterson’s work still stands out. Her art takes on a dreamlike or fantasy-like quality, and as an observer, it is easy to get lost in the beauty of it all. I sat down with Masterson to discuss her work and the inspiration behind it.
Her interest in photography began at a young age. Her dad was a photographer, so she grew up learning how to handle and use cameras. In high school, she decided to take a photography course, which became pivotal for Masterson. Her teacher, Mrs. Whiteside, served as one of her first encouragers and motivators.
“I had never had someone tell me I was good at something,” said Masterson. “She was the first person to say, ‘you know, you have a real talent for this,’ so I decided, ‘okay, this is what I want to do now.’”
She pursued photography at Daytona State College. After graduating, she got engaged to her now-husband Ed Masterson and the pair moved to California. While out there, she started her own photography business and, having just had a child of her own, took photos of babies, children and families. When they eventually moved back to Florida to be closer to their parents, she maintained her business and grew a large clientele here on the Space Coast.
As a younger girl, her father taught her how to shoot and process film. Though she shot film throughout the years, she began to use it less and less as her portrait business – which required the use of her digital camera – took over. It wasn’t until seven years ago that she began to put film back on the forefront and begin making her art.
At this time, Masterson was asked to teach a photography workshop at her alma mater in Daytona. She had never taught a workshop before, so she bounced ideas back and forth, unsure of what to teach. She finally decided to teach image blending, as this was something she knew well and had, at one point, loved to do.
Masterson also shared that, “I had a spiritual awakening. God showed me how to see in a way I couldn’t see before.” With her awakening and re-found love for image blending, she began to create art.
Masterson knew immediately that she didn’t want to make inkjet prints of her work. She wanted her work to be original. So, she decided to use pigment transfer prints. She explained that this is a process in which you print on a piece of transparency film, coat the paper/film with a special substance and roll back until the image is transferred onto the transparency film/paper.
When experimenting with different papers, she came across mulberry paper, which she now uses for her prints. “I was praying and asking God what paper I should use, and I came across mulberry paper. When I looked up the meaning in the Bible I came across [Luke 17:6], which says, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it will obey you.’
“[When I found this verse] I said, ‘this is exactly what I am doing. I am transplanting an image onto this mulberry paper.’” The prayers continued to be answered.
Masterson’s husband bought her tickets to attend two workshops she had been eyeing. For whatever reason, she couldn’t attend either of the workshops; however, as the old adage goes, when one door closes, another opens.
A workshop in Cape Cod with artist Makoto Fujimura appeared, and Masterson was hand-selected to attend. Here, he taught the art of Nihonga, which is an artform that involves oyster shell pigments. Essentially, Masterson shared that you learn to crush the shells into a powder and combine it with a special glue. They learned, not only how to make it, but how to paint with it, and Masterson decided she wanted to use this as part of her original art.
“[The oyster shell] is a very pearlescent white,” shared Masterson. “The oyster shell comes through whatever it is you layer on top, and the neat thing is that it does whatever it wants. Sometimes it shows, sometimes it doesn’t.” She shared that she had the idea to add a golden-bronze to the oyster shell, which is where her artwork gets its signature shimmer.
While all of these fine details come together to make a beautiful, unique image, the main focal point of her work is the film photograph. I asked her to tell me the difference between film and digital photography, as well as why she was drawn more to film as an artist, and she had this to say:
“I’m drawn to more than the final image: it’s the process that moves me. It’s the making of, not just a beautiful image but a luminous negative. With film, there’s a trust that takes place. A trust with myself that I get the correct exposure and a trust in the processing. Intuition through feel has to be used because it’s done in the dark. With film, there is deep anticipation with the prize that awaits when you look at processed film. When something takes longer to make, the excitement builds. Also, when something doesn’t come out right, there is a bigger disappointment. But this is part of what makes it so great. It strengthens and increases patience. For me, there’s a deeper reward for the perseverance of the process.”
Masterson’s work is, in my opinion, the very definition of fine art. And others seem to agree. Earlier this year, Masterson became a 2019 international portfolio competition winner. She shared that friends and family had been telling her for years to show her work in New York. While she wanted to do so, she was waiting for the opportunity to arise. Former photography teacher, Mrs. Whiteside, contacted Masterson and told her about the portfolio competition. Masterson said, “I know that if they could just see my work in person, they would accept me.” She got that chance and won, and she received her own exhibit for her collection, “Tangled up in Beauty,” in the Soho Photo Gallery from April-May.
“I create art from my heart, and I create art from God and for God … it’s a spiritual thing for me,” shared Masterson. “I believe He orchestrated this whole thing for me, and He has a much bigger plan than I could ever fathom for what I’m going to do.”
To view more of her work, visit erikamasterson.com.