Terry Masters, 66, recently closed his Palm Springs gallery—but the renowned artist’s work can now be seen at Jones and Terwilliger Galleries in Palm Desert.
Phyllis Johnson, a fine-art consultant at Jones and Terwilliger, said gallery-goers often commented on how much they loved Masters’ work—even though the gallery didn’t represent him at the time.
“(His work) has such a vitality and uniqueness in terms of the desert,” Johnson said. “He expresses his wisdom and life experiences in the desert because he’s lived here for decades. He’s expressing the feelings and emotions of his soul, and is at one with the lands.”
Johnson compared Masters to a sculptor who silently listens to stones. “It’s the same for him: He listens to the desert.”
Masters paints locations such as Pinto Basin, Andreas Canyon and Murray Canyon, treating these familiar scenes with a bold sense of design, abstraction and hypnotic color combinations. Sometimes he paints landscapes at the same place over and over again, but with different lights and shadows, because the colors can change a lot from day to day, and season to season. He loves getting up high, looking down at the valley and over the mountains, and bringing the desert to life. It’s a magical place for him.
Masters said he simply tries to portray what is beautiful.
“I want to get people to see the beauty of the desert,” he said.
Masters is an aggressive artist who attacks his canvas; his brush bolts from his palette to his easel. He paints fast and moves the paint to wherever it wants to go. He fixes mistakes or adds shadows with a stroke of his brush, and can finish paintings in two hours … or three weeks. He takes shapes—of palm trees, Joshua trees, plants and mountains—then defines detail and refines colors.
“All I do is find beautiful spots and render, as close as I can,” Masters said. “I don’t really have a trick; I just find the right ones, and break it down to a photographic image. It’s important to have them be accurate. You need to see what’s in front of you and copy the same shapes and colors onto your canvas.”
Masters has lived in the desert since he was 12, when his family—his parents and eight siblings—moved from Sacramento to Palm Springs on account of his asthmatic mother’s health.
“I was the only one of my siblings who saw the beauty in the desert right away,” he said. “The sun was always shining, and we could swim in our pool in January, and feel the balmy air in winter. I always thought of people from all over the world who were watching golf tournaments on TV, seeing how bright and sunny it was here while they were in the depths of winter.”
Amazingly, Masters only started painting full-time at the age of 38. After years in radio, he woke up one morning, quit his job and painted every day; some friends thought he was crazy. He produced between 300 and 400 paintings a year, many of them unfinished, as he experimented with technique.
He won a couple of ribbons at the La Quinta Arts Festival, but then hit what might be termed a drought. It was a workshop with the great Laguna Beach plein-air artist Ken Auster in 1999 that brought him back to artistic life.
“I thought it would be easy, because I could draw,” Masters said. “I knew that I had so much to learn, to achieve. I had to catch up, so I spent every day painting, not resting.”
Influenced by Auster, Masters started using oils, and took risks with his painting—the form, the color spectrum, and so on. That workshop set the course for the rest of his career so far, and Masters is now well-known in the fine-arts world.
Sally and Richard Russo, who own seven pieces of Masters’ work, compare his style to that of impressionist Claude Monet, who painted plein-air landscapes of haystacks and cathedral facades. Sally Russo also recognized inspiration from another famous artist in a demonstration piece Masters did for a class he teaches at the Desert Art Center.
“I recognized it immediately as a subject of roses in a glass bowl he painted often used by Edouard Manet,” she said. “Terry’s (copy of the) work had the same color palette, generous brush strokes and sense of elegance as the original.”
Sally Russo noted that Masters has recently started exploring portraiture and large works on canvas.
“We will be anxious to see what comes next. He doesn’t copy; he creates,” she said. “Over the years, Masters has shown stylistic experimentation in his work. However, the one factor that remains constant is his understanding of light. He will paint a scene at different times of the day to seek out and reproduce the perfect color of the sky, the mountains, and the subsequent shadows.”
Masters’ joined the Jones and Terwilliger roster somewhat fortuitously. The gallery director was looking to add a well-known desert painter, and an opportunity opened up when Masters decided to close his gallery.
“In the short time I’ve been in the desert, Terry Masters’ name was synonymous with an esteemed landscape painter we represent, named Brian Blood,” said Crystal Curtis, director of the Jones and Terwilliger Galleries, via email.
Blood, a resident of Pebble Beach, is a well-known plein-air impressionist. Terry Masters is known as a plein-air desert painter, meaning that he paints landscapes in the open air.
Many of Masters’ previous works were fairly small. However, some of his newer paintings are much larger.
“We’re hoping our representation is giving Masters the freedom to create new works that have since now only existed in the backburners of his imagination,” Curtis said.
For more information on Terry Masters, visit www.desertpainter.com.