Angel of History: Stephen Masterson

14 April - 13 May 1988 London

Stephen Masterson's 'Angel of History' is the second exhibition at Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery, opened in March 1988 and it is Masterson's first one-man show. Masterson likes to think of his works as 'Trojan Horses', which hold the viewers by their aesthetic qualities and then draw them into consideration of meaning. Through the unrelenting quality of the 7 ft. by 7 ft. canvases he does not give anyone a soft option.


Masterson starts from Walter Benjamin's premise that the 'Angel of History' is propelled powerlessly into the future, his face turned always to the past. The series of ten paintings explores the way in which the past is always with us and pehaps warns us to take responsibility for actions that will affect future generations. Sometimes the message is clearly political, as in the Bhopal diptych, which pairs an Indian servant boy locked into the grid of a Western cathedral with a desolate landscape. The first standing for colonial exploitation and the second for the wasteland after the colonialist's departure.


Elsewhere Masterson makes his points about the human condition with direct reference to the history of art. He is post-modern in the sense that he looks beyond modernism to the more distant past. His 'Angel' is a dark-eyed solemn boy, permeated by the mysterious intensity found in paintings by sixteenth-century Spanish saints. This reference to an age of faith, suggested also by gothic cathedrals in several of the paintings, seems to question the emptiness of late twentieth-century materialism.


The paintings reference the passing of time. Using a broad range of technical devices, Masterson presents time as decaying fabric revealing old imprints. Thickening his paint with wax, he gives his work an expressionistic texture.