In the last four decades of her life, wherever Emily Mason began a work of art, she always finished it in the same place: under the distinct light of her studio in the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan. As such, the title of Mason's first posthumous show since her death in late 2019—"Chelsea Paintings"—describes not only the location of the show, but an intrinsic part of their process of creation. On view at Miles McEnery Gallery, the exhibition reveals more than 20 of the artist's works made between 1978 and 1997.
Art ran in Mason's blood. Named for Emily Dickinson, she was a descendent of John Trumbull, daughter to Alice Trumbull Mason, mother to Cecily Kahn, and wife to Wolf Kahn—but her style was entirely her own. She would begin a canvas and see where it took her. Sometimes, this resembled a Jackson Pollock-esque method of spilling a paint upon a blank canvas laid upon the floor; in other instances, this would look more like a watery, pooling technique evocative of Helen Frankenthaler's oeuvre. In the turbulent and riverine My Iris (1984-1985) [pictured], swaths and splashes of orange, blue, and yellow compete with a scumbling dry brush, as well as the swipes of a rag that removed pigment. In contrast, Ancient Incense (1981), for instance, is more placid, dominated by shades of blue, and cut by lines that suggest the tectonic lines of a mountain-scape. Each of the canvases here is entirely distinct—and, even more so, each is distinctly Mason's.
Emily Mason, My Iris, 1984-1985. Oil on canvas, 52 x 48 inches.