American artist and teacher Emily Mason, whose painted abstractions capture both roiling and tranquil climates of color, died on December 10, 2019, at her home in Brattleboro, Vermont. She was eighty-seven years old.
Mason was born in New York in 1932. Her mother was painter Alice Trumbull Mason, a cofounder of the American Abstract Artists group, who named her daughter after Emily Dickinson. Mason grew up surrounded by artists in her mother’s circle, which included Josef Alberts, Milton Avery, Ad Reinhardt, Joan Miró, and Piet Mondrian. Mason studied at the Cooper Union and Bennington College before earning a 1956–58 Fulbright to Venice, where at one point she roomed with Lee Bontecou. In 1957, Mason married painter Wolf Kahn, and, two years later, she joined Area Gallery, a co-op on New York’s Tenth Street that eventually held her first solo exhibition in 1960. In addition to her painting practice, she taught at Hunter College for more than twenty-five years.
“Mason works within the improvisational model of Abstract Expressionism, though notably without angst or bravado,” painter Robert Berlind wrote in the 2003 issue of Art in America. “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.”
Of her artistic approach, Mason once said: “I try to use paint for its brilliance, transparency, opacity, liquidity, weight, warmth and coolness. These qualities guide me in a process which will determine the climate of the picture. All the while I work to define spatial relationships, resulting in certain kinds of places. I cannot name them but know intuitively when they appear.”