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Museum Publication: Catalogue, 'Color | Gesture: Early Works by Emily Mason'

Museum Publication: Catalogue, 'Color | Gesture: Early Works by Emily Mason'

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Color | Gesture: Early Works by Emily Mason
Emily Mason has always charted her own path within the context of American abstraction. She was born in New York City in 1932, the daughter of the painter Alice Trumbull Mason, an early exponent of non-objective abstraction and a founder of the American Abstract Artists group in 1937. Emily Mason first came to Vermont in 1950 to attend Bennington College, in a deliberate attempt to “break away from New York” and “to think things out for myself.” After two years at Bennington, she transferred to Cooper Union in New York City, to get closer to where the action was. She still lives in New York, but since 1968 she and her husband, the painter Wolf Kahn, have owned a property outside Brattleboro, Vermont, where they spend their summers and each has a studio.

Through her mother, Mason knew all the major Abstract Expressionist painters in New York City. She remembers being shocked by their work, not understanding what they were doing. Seeing the traveling retrospective of Jackson Pollock’s work in Rome in 1958 forced her to come to grips with his “all over” painting composed of drips and splashes. She visited Joan Mitchell in her Paris studio in the late 1950s, finding the latter’s work both deeply unsettling and inspirational. She admired Mitchell as another woman who was “finding her own voice” within the broad stream of abstraction.

The works in this exhibition, which focuses on the decade 1958-1968, show Mason developing her own unique style as she moved beyond Abstract Expressionism, which was based in gesture and movement, to create an abstraction of pure color laid down in delicate veils and washes of thinned oil paint, layered so that they explore effects of transparency and opacity, variegated textures, and complex color interactions. Oil on paper proved to be a perfect medium for her experiments. The small size of the works, quick drying time of the diluted oils, and portability of the materials meant these works could serve as a laboratory for innovation. By 1968 she had achieved an exquisite mastery of her materials. Hard-fought, improvisatory, and experimental, the works in this exhibition are not only a record of that achievement—they are where she worked it out.

This catalogue is published by Bennington Museum on the occasion of the exhibition Color|Gesture: Early Works by Emily Mason May 11 through September 9, 2019.

Publication Date: 2019
Publisher: Bennington Museum
Product Dimensions: 9 x 7 x 0.25"
Format: Soft Cover
Pages: 72
Photos: 31