By Nature


The selections from the featured series by Michael Mastrogiacomo ‘Kamikaze’ and ‘Field Fire’ portray grand displays of nature, in wild states of near-complete destruction and at its most powerful. These otherwise mild landscapes roar with uncontrollable fire, massive, swirling clouds or forecast dynamic change, produced by both man and the environment. One could examine these pieces and later wonder why we humans marvel at such dramatic moments, what caused them, what remains when it’s all over, and maybe the repercussions of our volatile impact on the sacred earth. In the moment of taking in such natural phenomena, compelled by primal fears and fascination, we simply look on, unable to fully grasp how small we truly are and how brief our very existence.

Vision 2006 15 x 24 watercolor on paper - This ‘Vision’, a colossal funnel of water and wind, appears more as a terrible god, looming over the gentle plain, than the early beginning of a tornado touchdown. The vortex of dark clouds, rendered with blotted watercolor brushstrokes, intensify the sensation of otherworldly chaos of this coming storm, barely trailing the horizon.
The Fallen 2012 16 x 22 watercolors on paper - From the dynamic ‘Kamikaze’ series, the artist captures the startling impact of man against nature. The framing and momentum of this series draws from the ‘Divine Winds’, Japanese suicide pilots of World War II, whose deadly warfare tactics and unflinching allegiance were engrained forever within modern history. In this moment, noting the 19% success rates of Kamikaze pilots actually striking their intended target, the plane has plunged into the ocean. The sheer force of this disastrous crash is only evident from a single surge of water, no more than a quick dry brushstroke. Any remains, man or machine, have vanished in the dark water below.
The Sky Event #5 2014 14 x 20 watercolors on paper - Michael Mastrogiacomo’s natural landscapes have the ability to manifest, and then suspend before us, mingling emotions of dread and excitement; the calm before a storm, or a theatrical performance. The atmosphere here is hazy with intention, uncertain of what has occurred, or will soon enough. Daylight seeps though heavy clouds above a mostly open rural glade. Intruding on this quiet setting is the vaguest hint of foreign winds, or perhaps smoke, the artist’s soft brushwork wash barely suggesting what ‘it’ could be.
Storm Sky with Yellow Sheet (Formerly known as ‘New Sheet’) 2009 15 x 21 watercolors on paper - As is the case with many of Michael Mastrogiacomo’s landscapes, his rendering of the vast natural world -and our meager place within it- has the potential to weave a complex narrative, stories waiting to be told. Traces of human life are often scant, if not completely inexistent in his natural scenes. The perspective within ‘New Sheet’ is highly distinct however, placed at a low, personal angle, the titular cheery yellow fabric fluttering in our foreground. This is an intimate moment to breathe in: absorbing the view of the lake, the weightless movement of the clean sheet, understanding the plume of dark clouds approaching on the horizon. Breathe out.
Kamikaze No. 3 2007 16 x 22 watercolors on paper - Third in the series of ‘Kamikaze' paintings, the story here begins after the crash. All is eerily quiet and still, save for the tail of smoke swirling across the empty plain. Any hints of flames, twisted metal, telltales of the cause of this disruption, are not visible, completely cut off from the curious viewer looking on. Such carnage, fueled by glory or war, has been swallowed up by the earth.
Field Fire with Wind Mill 2014 13.5 x 22 watercolors on paper - An explosion of apocalyptic doom, heat practically bursts from the wall of fire portrayed in this painting. Tiny gestures of the artist’s brush are impressions of the wind mills in the far distance, the only signs and promise of human life, having been completely consumed by flames. Their existence is further diminished by the heavy smoke filled sky dominating most of the painting above, driving the enormity of this outstanding, mesmerizing catastrophe.
Field Fire #9 2011 35 x 21 watercolors on paper - Artistic renderings of fire traditionally signify the contrary forces of creation or destruction, life or death. Along a similar vein, the organized planning of man-made controlled fires “prescribed burns”, have ensured the future growth of forests and farm land, extinguishing harmful dead or diseased vegetation. This particular study of a burning landscape seems to reflect this practice. The perspective is pulled down to eye level; we’re no longer spectating in wonderment and awe but objectively surveying the linear movement of the flames. The lines and details of the land and horizon are clear and concise.
Field Fire with Sky 2004 14 x 20 watercolors on paper - This field fire study depicts a highly intriguing approach to the subject matter, with considerations of lighting and the time of day. Throughout his series, the artist notably diverges from traditional classic interpretations of large-scale fires, which stage dramatic scenes at night, the chiaroscuro of bright flames intense against a dark world. Noting the use of the watercolor as medium typically welds more illuminated landscapes, the placement of these fires during specific times of the day creates a captivating, visceral aura. Here, subtle warm light is cast, sunrise or sunset, the dark rising smoke tinged with pink against a hazy, soft blue sky.
Tree Fire #1 2013 14 x 20 watercolors on paper - Michael Mastrogiacomo’s landscape studies with field fires often juxtapose the smallness of man, to the raw power and mind-bending scale of nature and its elements. Wild flames engulf the gentle forest on the horizon, the only suggestion of humanity in this setting can be found in the decrepit, long abandoned picket fence.
Field Fire #2 2003 14 x 23 watercolors on paper - The minimal, somewhat abstracted approach in this early study of the ‘Field Fire’ series is a significantly calmer mood, amongst the collection of natural disasters and tempests. The soft brushwork of the flames, plushy greens and overcast sky, snippets of blue sky peeking through the clouds, allows the viewer a meditative reprieve of sorts. We’re meant to drink in this moment, rather than mull over cause and effect of the fire.
Field Fire (Print) 2002 14” x 28” print - This print best depicts the masterful watercolor techniques used by Michael Mastrogiacomo in his vivid portrayals of fire and the elements in his ‘Field Fire’ series. The detailed strokes and careful application of water varies between the licking flames, soft clouds and course ground, cognitively establishing physicality. The sense of movement and radiating heat comes from a soft and blurred application of paint; the blended effect of the red and orange wash, against the surrounding landscape, creates a brilliant illusion of 3-dimensionality.
Blue Storm Over Field 2011 17.5” x 23.5” watercolors on paper - The artist’s exceptional brushwork and watercolor truly come forth in this piece. Plumes of gathering storm clouds, hues of deep blue, black and green, premeditate the severe weather and oncoming clash of lightening and thunder. This imposing sky, practically supernatural in its rendered abstracted form of bleeding and blotted brushstrokes, balances the naturalistic detail of the craggy earth below.

Born in 1950 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Michael Mastrogiacomo’s has produced a massive artistic body of work throughout his lifetime. Since the fruition of his career and inception of the featured works from the series of found art object ‘Constructions’, Michael’s artwork has gained significant presence throughout the country, most prominently amongst the New York City and San Francisco art scenes. More recent, his magnificent collection of watercolor paintings, including notable works from the series ‘Field Fires’ and ‘Kamikaze Paintings’, best reflect his fluidity moving between various mediums, mastered painterly abilities and complex contemplations of man and nature, within the past two decades.

1982 – MFA Painting, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA
1979 – BFA Painting, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA
1971 – Maryland Art Institute, Baltimore MA
1970 – AA Industrial Design Newark Collage of Fine and Industrial Art, Newark, NJ

Solo Exhibitions:
1997 – Phillip Stabe Gallery New York City, NY
1997 – Old Dominion University Norfolk, VA
1997 – 1708 E. Main Street, Figurative Painting Richmond, VA
1995 – San Francisco Cultural Center, Mission, (Instillation) San Francisco, CA
1994 – 9th Precinct Gallery New York City, NY
1986 – Heller Gallery, University at Berkeley CA
1984-1986 – Dana Reich Gallery, San Francisco, CA

Selected Group Exhibitions:
2006 – UN Exhibition ( Art of Inspiration) New York City, NY
2006 – Russian Exhibition (Art of Inspiration) traveling exhibition to Moscow
1996 – Studio Exhibition Long Island City, NY
1993 – Tweed Gallery (Ten Downtown Show) New York City, NY
1985 – Ninth Precinct Gallery, New York City, NY
1985 – Crocker Art Museum (Permanent collection), Sacramento CA
1985 – Southern Exposure Gallery (The Impolite Figure) San Francisco, CA
1984 – Pacific Gallery, San Francisco, CA
1983 – 88 Dana Reich Gallery, San Francisco, CA

Recent projects:
Group show at the Manhattan Art Club ‘The Kamikaze’, 2011
Vietnam War dedication, 2013 – present

New Art Examiner February 1985, D. Blumenthal
San Francisco Chronicle May 1984, Kate Regan
Artweek May 1983, Mark Van Proyen