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Going Straight

Art Review


Published April 27, 2005 at 4:00 a.m.

EXHIBIT: "Crankcase," paintings and mixed media by Mr. Masterpiece. Sanctuary 47 Gallery, Burlington. Through June 3.

ARTWORK: "Desire" by Mr. Masterpiece

When the naive, jagged, figurative paintings by "Mr. Masterpiece" began to appear in Burlington venues in the late 1980s, it was difficult to know what this mysterious artist with the tongue-in-cheek name was doing. A natural reaction to the moniker was: "Does this guy actually think he's that good?" But as Mr. Masterpiece -- a.k.a. Lindsay Vezina -- continued to assiduously refine his style, using close-knit hues and razor-sharp-edged lines, he gradually became a brilliant technician. Today he categorically states, "Taping is for wussies."

More importantly, Mr. Masterpiece has invented an elegant personal aesthetic that is uniquely inspired yet firmly rooted in art history. His current exhibit, "Crankcase," at Burlington's Sanctuary 47 Gallery, presents an in-depth overview of his remarkable works. The show includes sketchbooks, seven large-scale paintings and a pair of odd, three-dimensional pieces that are both deadpan humorous and deadly serious critiques of the "art scene."

The great French painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres is said to have told a young student by the name of Edgar Degas that in order to become a great artist he should "draw many lines, many lines." Degas took that advice to heart; Mr. Masterpiece appears to have followed a similar path. More than 100 of his filled sketchbooks are piled up in the gallery. A sign above them states that the "100+ sketchbooks represent 15 years of drawing subjects in cafés, bars, strip clubs, etc." Visitors are welcome to rifle through them.

The sketches are remarkably consistent pencil drawings devoid of shading and replete with figures made up of straight lines. Mr. Masterpiece creates space by varying the weights of his lines and manipulating negative space. The artist is a former bartender, as well as a past curator of exhibitions for the Daily Planet, Red Square and other venues. The relentless act of drawing that world has helped make him a strong painter.

Mr. Masterpiece's paintings bear some resemblance to Italian Futurist canvasses and constructions produced by Giacomo Balla in the 1920s. While they may be unrelated, both artists fashion movement with flat shapes that seem to possess a hidden order of rationality. Forms swoop into each other and are surrounded by dashes, plus signs and thin S-curves. Hues are pared down to minimal yet effective harmonies that dance in white space.

"Bandaid" and "Heart Attack" both have deep green borders and stylized texts along the top and lower edges. The texts resemble Sanskrit and are virtually unintelligible. In "Desire," two female forms are accompanied by the statement, written in cursive, "There's nothing but trouble and desire." The forms' edges and angles slightly overlap at some points and never quite touch at others, as if to echo the painting's fatalistic written message.

The stuffed, wall-mounted creature entitled "Fuzzy Boy Johnson" is like a brown dog with a flat, painted face. Mr. Masterpiece has a long history of creating clown imagery, including self-portraits, and Fuzzy Boy may follow in that tradition. If so, perhaps it hints at the absurd nature of the artist-as-hero myths regularly rehashed by curators and critics. Mr. Masterpiece has also placed on the floor a brick with a clown nose entitled "Brick 'MansBrick' Man's Inhumanity to Man (putting a dress on a pig)" in a swipe at conceptual art's "inhumanity" to the public.

"Conceptual" means different things to different people, and that label could possibly be applied to Mr. Masterpiece's work since day one. But his conceptual approach is unpretentious and honest, and in that regard he unquestionably lives up to his name.