Emily Mason was an artist who created lyrical paintings on canvas and paper for more than sixty years. Abstract Expressionism was the style she painted in throughout her life. The sense of flux in her paintings comes from the strong gestural marks, delicate washes of color, and spontaneous splashes and drips of paint. The implied mobility of lyrical abstraction in her paintings suggests space and movement.
Mason grew up in New York City and attended New York’s High School of Music and Art. She enrolled in Bennington College in Vermont from 1950 to 1952 before transferring to Copper Union where she immersed herself in the vibrant art scene of New York in the 1950s. After graduating from Cooper Union in 1955, she won a Fulbright grant to study painting in Venice. It was there she married figurative landscape and color field artist Wolf Kahn in 1957. The couple traveled and painted in Paris, Rome, and Greece and lived in Venice after Mason earned a second Fulbright grant. In 1959, the couple returned to New York City where they raised their two daughters.
In 1968, Mason and Kahn purchased a farm in West Brattleboro, Vermont. While she spent most of her life in New York City, she always found her inspiration in the outdoors. “I really rely on seeing nature.” The couple would live in Vermont in the spring through autumn, using the rich foliage as a source for their art. Then they would return to New York in late October and stay there during the winter. Regularly exhibiting her work in New York, Mason won the Ranger Fund Purchase Prize by the National Academy of Design in 1979, the same year she started teaching at Hunter College where she taught painting for over thirty years.
Unlike her abstract artist mother, Alice Trumbull Mason, who planned every stroke and made precise, preparatory drawings, Mason did just the opposite. She let the paint itself “suggest the next step.” She would allow thinned out oil paint to slide around the canvas when she tipped it side to side. Her vibrant colors and misty atmospheres subtly referenced the cycle of the seasons and nature’s landscapes.
Mason was an Honorary Trustee of the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center. Her work is in the permanent collections of New York’s Alexander Foundation, National Academy Museum, New Britain Museum of American Art, Wheaton College, as well as corporate institutions.
Emily Mason died on December 10, 2019. Her husband Wolf Kahn died three months later on March 15, 2020.