Emily Mason's lyrical prints lighting the way

BRATTLEBORO — Emily Mason's "Explorations," an extensive survey of 41 of Mason's prints from 1985 to 2016 is on display at Mitchell Giddings Fine Arts until Jan. 7. This gallery-wide exhibition explores Mason's innovative approach to contemporary printmaking. Her monoprints, monotypes and solarplate prints epitomize her spontaneous and bold use of color and form.

Mason calls them print paintings and appreciates the collaborative method of printmaking. She approaches this process with the mind of a painter. She thinks of the prints as small paintings, not something she will reproduce. Each one is unique and one of a kind. The format and size is easier to manipulate since they're not on a large canvas. The materials and the printmaking processes give her new ideas. She uses oil based ink, prefers Somerset and Reeves papers and Plexiglass plates.

Printmaking is like baking bread

Mason said, "It's like baking a loaf of bread. You put it in the oven and hope it's good." She continued, "Something miraculous happens in the oven, you pull it out of the oven and see what it looks like." When reached in her Manhattan studio recently, Mason explained "It's a bit of an experiment. When you take the blankets off not knowing what you will get." Sometimes things can change as they dry. She also mentions that working with each printer offers a different perspective and method.

Mason began exploring printmaking at Hunter College and later continued to work with the Garner Tullis Workshop. She worked with master printers Lisa Mackie and Janis Stemmermann through 2016.

Luminosity of Color

Mason is first and foremost, a colorist. She says color is crucial to her work. "My whole work is about color!" She likes the luminosity of color.

Mason selects her print titles from Emily Dickinson's poetry. She said, "I always give them titles after the work is complete. It's the sensation that the painting or print gives me." Mason hopes this show stimulates people to try printmaking themselves.

Another element that Mason ponders is time. No one talks about the concept of time when they teach art. She explained, "Time is like the drying process. When the print is dry, you see something fresh. You see what is needed. You detach from the initial image and you see it with fresh eyes, after not seeing it for a week."

According to Jim Giddings, co-director of Mitchell Giddings gallery, Mason is one of America's foremost non-representational painters. Giddings said, "It's an honor to have one of the premier abstract painters in the country showing in our gallery." He continued, "It's a unique opportunity to see her prints because there has not been a show of this size of Emily's works on paper." Giddings added, "Each printer offers their individual creative direction which enhances Mason's distinctive style."

In a recent short documentary series "Made Here by Vermont PBS, Emily Mason: A Painting Experience," master printer Janis Stemmermann said, "What Emily did with this sort of (printmaking) technique, is that she created layers and veiling; transparent colors and opaque colors and that was new. No one had done that before."

Fulbright in Italy

Born and raised in Manhattan, Mason attended New York City's High School of Music and Art. She studied at Bennington College for two years and transferred to The Cooper Union in New York City. She met her husband painter Wolf Kahn just as she was leaving for a Fulbright scholarship to paint in Venice, Italy from 1956-58. While there, she studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti. At the Accademia she was in a classroom of 30 students. She remembers that the maestro and his assistant got the best window while the rest of class shared one light bulb for the entire class. It was there that she learned the technique of blotting and transferring, so it was an interesting foray into art education.

In her Vermont summer studio she paints by a large open door where she can see the landscape. She appreciates the quiet in Vermont, which gives her an ability to focus on her work. On the other hand, she says New York has a wonderful energy which you can't find anywhere else. By splitting the year into two parts — New York and Vermont — the working opportunities balance each other. She explained that New York feeds her too, with good food to eat, lots of friends and a unique energy. She said, "It's important to be there."

In curating the show, Petria Mitchell, co-director of Mitchell Giddings Fine Arts said, "I greatly enjoyed the challenge of curating this exhibit because of my need to immerse myself in a variety of printmaking techniques over a 30 year period. Emily is a master in creative spontaneity and being present to what emerges. Those gifts have offered us some of the most profound visual poetry of our time."

Mitchell - Giddings Fine Arts opened in 2014, with 2,400 square feet of space and is located at 183 Main St., Brattleboro. The Gallery is committed to presenting innovative, contemporary works that stimulate and challenge both the seasoned collector and aesthetic explorer. Co-founders Mitchell and Giddings, both professional artists for 35 years, have worked with nonprofit arts organizations including the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, The River Gallery School of Art, Windham Art Gallery, and Brattleboro-West Arts. Mitchell Giddings Fine Arts won a 2017 BCTV Community Partnership Award to recognize their video program, MGFA Presents, with filming by Ames Hill Productions Andy Reichsman and Kate Purdie.

For more information on Emily Mason's "Explorations" visit mitchellgiddingsfinearts.com.


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