EMILY MASON: RECENT PAINTINGS

Review, 15 Feb 1999
By Bill J. Bowyer

Emily Mason, child of one of the mandarins of American abstract artist has been painting forever – was painting when I first met her on her way to Venice with a Fulbright (where she was to meet and later marry Wolf Kahn) longer ago than one likes to imagine. And for much of that period she has painted her own way, making one beautifully wrought object after another. She has mingled the heritage of the Founding Fathers of Abstract Expressionism with the concerns of the Color Field painters while pursuing her own special way. Her paintings are recognizable from a distance; she has a signature style of glorious colors washing across the canvas. She depends not on a struggle with the canvas as did many of the second generation painters in New York or the great, often empty, fields of pure colors pouring across the canvas, but rather on making a painting, making them painting-sized, not huge and not small, making it until everything comes together. Every work is delicious, decorative true, but striking as well. Some have a single dominate color, some as well have a large almost monochromatic intrusion of a single shape as the blue oblong that thrusts into From Winter Rise, 1998, but the feeling of the work is free, light not airy but open. It is very hard to make decorative, beautiful paintings that are also compelling, very hard these days to be taken seriously by those who seek narrative or novel means or size.

And as for small scale, in the gallery’s smaller room there are small paintings, a whole wall of them, that in some cases would not be not easily recognized as by Emily Mason at all. Some of these works deploy a far more complex set of means, different colors, different central images. What makes them especially interesting is that while small – very small as such matters now go – there is no feel of the miniature and certainly none of “the study.” These are independent and complete works of art, often independent of the major displayed concerns of her present work. Some are more exciting than her great waves of color – almost any would grace a collection. It is, in fact, a delight to see small, great paintings on display, to see the other directions of a career that has generated so many recognizable “Masons” – and most of all and always a delight simply to see compelling objects whoever made them, for whatever purpose and in whatever format.

Still it is the big, bold, beautiful color work that should attract the viewer. And so, go, be a viewer and see both sides now – the glory of the large paintings and the ingenuity and intensity of the small. You will be the better for it. Time well spent amid objects wrought after a lifetime pursuing truth.