EMILY MASON AT DAVID FINDLAY

Art in America, 1 Jun 2003
By Robert Berlind

Those suffering from chromophobia should steer clear of Emily Mason’s luminous abstractions in oil. Partial to extravagant, close harmonies, she abuts intense magentas and blood oranges, pale violets and deep yellows, often adding a light green or cerulean blue exactly calibrated to produce an optical vibration. While some of her recent paintings are of an allover, full-tilt intensity, in many cases a counterforce, say, a thinned yellow washed over an area of dark underpainting, undercuts the sweetness with a dash of vinegar. Her variegated surfaces may be opaque or layered as transparent washes, glazed or scraped, scumbled, wiped down or sanded. Drawing may be accomplished by accidental flows of paint, by a bold gesture or by the edge where one color meets another.

While some paintings appear reworked over time, others, like Summer’s Embers, with its cadmium yellow, hot pink, tomato red and bolt of light green, seem almost to have happened by themselves. Titles such as Beyond the Dunes, Eye to the East and When Rivers Overflow, along with her implied horizons, atmospheric effects and, in some works, aerial views, evoke landscape. Her colors are not precisely after nature, except where they might be taken from flowers of tropical plumage, but the paintings give off a resplendence that could only be outdoors.

Mason works within the improvisational model of Abstract Expressionism, though notably without angst or bravado and at a more tractable scale. The poetry of these paintings is lyric, not epic. Her closest affinity is with Hofmann, whose robust hedonism and interplay of paint’s opacity, fluidity and gestural grandeur she transforms into an art of intimacy. And, as with Hofmann, her range includes structural frameworks that intimate a Cubist heritage, as well as open, intuitively generated spaces that can seem without precedent. For all her exuberance, Mason’s modesty is integral to her work, and she is, perhaps, at her best in her smaller paintings. Within My Garden, at 32 inches square, demonstrates the dual sense of decorum and excitement, in what seems an effortless interplay of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, that runs throughout her work. A group of gemlike oils on clay board measuring 7 by 5 inches each, sometimes employing metallic leaf and a collagelike geometry, are tantalizing indications of other directions available to her.