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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Brattleboro Museum Displays Decades Of Work By Southern Vt. Abstract Artist Emily Mason

Abstract artist Emily Mason stands in front of some of her new work hanging on the walls in New York City.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Emily Mason splits her time betwen New York City and Brattleboro. In this photo she stands before new work in her studio in New York.

Many years of work by Emily Mason, an abstract painter who splits her time between southern Vermont and New York City, is the focus of a retrospective show going on now at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center.

Mason begins each new painting without an idea exactly where she is heading. Instead, she says she reacts to the movement of paint across canvas and tries not to predict what the final image will eventually become.

“I like a painting to take me to a place I haven’t been,” she said during a recent interview in her studio in New York. “You know, I don’t want to know anything that’s preconceived. I think that holds you up, or back.”

The current exhibit in Brattleboro is called “To Another Place.” That title honors Mason’s idea that each painting opens up a new opportunity to move toward that other place.

In Mason’s paintings there are no sharp lines between the colors. The pigments meet or give way to each other. There’s contrast and there’s unison sometimes within the same area and among the same colors in a painting.

She says in the dripping and blotting and application of the paint, forms and ideas arise.

“The place to try to go to is to zone out, to get your mind out of the way kind of, so that you really touch something deeper inside of you,” Mason said. “And you’re not trying to do something — either copy yourself, or do somebody else’s rules or something. You want to sort of get rid of all that, things that inhibit your process.”

"I like a painting to take me to a place I haven't been. You know, I don't want to know anything that's preconceived." — Emily Mason, abstract artist

The paintings in this show span Mason’s 60-year career, and it includes some from the late 1950s when Mason was living in Europe on a Fulbright grant.

She purchased a house in West Brattleboro in 1968, and she says today Vermont is her inspiration and the place where she can work free of distractions.

Her studio is in an old barn that opens up into the woods. And from the time she arrives in late spring, she says, the trees and plants are in constant motion — growing and changing, in form and in color.

“There’s a factor of nature that’s Vermont,” Mason said. “And I was thinking about this this morning, if I could stress how important Vermont is for me. It’s just, one of those — it sustains, in a beautiful way.”

The abstract painting "March is Heard" by Emily Mason. Blues, purples, pink paints.
Credit courtesy of LewAllen Galleries, NM
"March is Heard" (1998), oil on canvas, 60 x 54 inches.

Mason’s paintings take up about two-thirds of the museum in Brattleboro right now. The largest works are about four-and-a-half feet high.

There are no edges on these paintings: The paint gobbles up the whole canvas, and from across the museum, the colors from the larger paintings radiate outward.

And the paintings themselves have that movement that Mason talks about when she’s creating a singular piece.

“I can see changes. And I can see moves I made early on that I wouldn’t make now,” Mason says about the show. “And for me I had never really put things together, because when you have a show — like I have coming up in January — it’s sort of what you’re doing now, but it doesn’t show you the journey.”

The Emily Mason exhibit will be up at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center through Feb. 10.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state. 
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