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T he Dutch Golden Age (1609-1713) and its canonical painters — Rembrandt van Rijn, J o h a n n e s Ve r m e e r, Frans Hals, Jan Steen — might seem an unlikely inspiration for a contemporary photographer, but in the case of Houston-based Libbie Masterson, it's all about the fabled light of these Dutch masters. Never a talent to shy away from reinvention, fresh subjects, and unexpected media, Masterson's return to college for a remote master's program at the prestigious Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) launched an investigation into contemporary portraiture. Previously, landscapes (from the South of France to Antarctica) had been the object of contemplation in her lens. Portraiture was not the predicted option when she enrolled in SCAD, but a chance class assignment offered unexpected revelations about the family members and friends she photographed in long exposures and minimal light. After being happy with the startling images of gravitas created, she decided to take up the ongoing series "Family Portrait" as her Master's thesis. Fearless in her ability to challenge herself with the new, it's no accident that Masterson recently won the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra's inaugural Wildcatting in the Arts Award for an unorthodox practice that encompasses glass fabrication; land art (in Hermann Park); set design for contemporary ballet, opera, and orchestra (including ROCO); and even turns as curator, chef, event planner, and composer. But "Family Portrait" may turn out to be Masterson's most seminal body of work. Herein her dialogue with the past records the wise, stoic, and timeless visages of family and neighbors. Her mother, jeweler Mariquita Masterson — as in the MFAH Rienzi Mastersons — is a beloved fixture in Texas creative circles and River Oaks matron to a brood of children and grandchildren; she's depicted here with the staunch bearing of a pilgrim, strong features emerging from an inky background. The artist's daughter, Mariquita II, appears as a child from another era, very 18th or 19th century, rimmed by golden light illuminating her intelligent, inquisitive face while she grasps a book and turns to the camera. Male figures in Masterson's lens are equally compelling. Tommy exists as a character study of a family patriarch; many exhibition-goers will recognize the sitter. This powerful, rugged man in cowboy hat and jeans sits within a still, reductive interior where the details of the mantel and the subject's face are those most visible in the dusky light. With a hand evoking an eagle's talons, this is a man, the viewer intuits, who lives close to the land, respecting nature and its inhabitants. Masterson writes in her artist statement: "This series of portraits uses long exposures to reveal what the eye cannot see. This is influential in creating a moody, dark, and atmospheric rendering of people who are very familiar yet present themselves in a new light when posed for the camera in this setting. The sitter is allowed a bit of an alter ego, perhaps exposing a part of themselves they don't often reveal." Opening at Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art, December 3, 2020 – January 9, 2021; reception for the artist Thursday, December 3, 4 to 7 pm; Opposite page: Libbie Masterson's Mariquita, 2020 Above: Tommy, 2020 Below: Mariquita II, 2020 67

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