‘Master of Light’ Review: Rebuilding Through Rembrandt

In the documentary “Master of Light,” George Anthony Morton recalls a difficult upbringing in Kansas City, Mo. “If there was a neighborhood drug house, that was where we lived,” he says. His struggling mother, Tela, had him at 15. But Morton says that he “always escaped through art” and that teachers recognized his potential and encouraged his talent.

His chance at becoming a professional artist was deferred: He spent his 20s in prison on a drug conviction. Still, he painted while incarcerated. Once released, he trained at the American branch of the Florence Academy of Art. He says he has a feeling of survivor’s guilt.

This documentary, from the Dutch filmmaker Rosa Ruth Boesten, who shares a “film by” credit with Morton, follows him as he pursues his painting career, drawing particular inspiration from Rembrandt and Egyptian art. He works at being a good father to his daughter, Nuri, and maintaining a relationship with his partner, Ashley, who, he says, wasn’t “exactly raised to be partners with someone who spent time in prison.” He attends therapy on camera. And throughout, he navigates his complicated relationship with Tela.

He wants to paint a picture of his mother, but the tension between them remains high, not least because she was involved in his arrest. The thesis of the movie — that art can be restorative and help overcome cyclical, systemic failures — might seem trite. But Morton’s devotion to his painting and his loved ones makes it difficult not to be moved.

Master of Light
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 23 minutes. Watch on HBO Max.

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