At 82, Color Field painter Emily Mason is still producing unabashedly gorgeous work. While reminiscent of the abstractions of Friedel Dzubas and Helen Frankenthaler, it is nevertheless, in its lush color and improvisational brushwork, unmistakably Mason’s own. This mini-retrospective comprised 38 oil paintings ranging from diminutive to heroic in size, and included both works on paper and works on canvas. Dated from the mid-1970s to last year, they showed a remarkable consistency of approach: like some of her peers—one thinks of the late Kenneth Noland—Mason has been able to sound many different notes without fundamentally changing her tune.
Allusions to the natural world abounded. Plated Leaves from 1979 is an explosion of autumnal shades, while Well Watered (2013)—at 60 by 50 inches one of the biggest paintings in the show—has some of the exuberance and jewel-like colors of a tropical waterfall. A few paintings reached back in time to summon the ghost of Pierre Bonnard. Entrance (2012), in particular, with its clusters of shapes at the edges of a yellow-green field, recalls one of Bonnard’s sun-drenched summer idylls. Mason is at her most powerful when she exploits her medium’s capacity for translucence, as in the shock of neon colors at the far right of Monadnock (1985).
Spontaneity is, of course, one of the hallmarks of Color Field painting, and all of Mason’s paintings depend on spur-of-the-moment decisions. This is perhaps most evident in her works on paper, which recall the theatrics of mid-century abstraction. But Mason’s drama is of a quieter nature than her AbEx predecessors; she seems not afraid to please while firmly holding her ground.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 100.