Emily Mason (January 12, 1932 – December 10, 2019) was an American abstract painter and printmaker. Mason developed her individual approach to the Abstract Expressionist and color field painting traditions with her veils of color and spontaneous gestural mark. Mason was born and raised in New York City, where she lived and worked until her death.
Emily Mason was born in Greenwich Village, New York City in 1932 to Alice Trumbull Mason and Warwood Edwin Mason. Her mother was a founder of the American Abstract Artists. Her father was sea captain for American Export Lines. She attended The High School of Music & Art from 1946 to 1950. She attended Bennington College from 1950 to 1952. In 1952, Mason transferred from Bennington College to the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, where she was graduated in 1955.
In 1956, Mason was awarded a Fulbright grant to study in Italy. Before moving there, she met fellow painter Wolf Kahn, who later joined her in Venice. They married on March 2, 1957 at the municipal building near the Rialto Bridge, witnessed by strangers and friends including filmmaker Tinto Brass. Her work earned her a second year of the Fulbright grant which they spent between Venice and Rome, visiting other artists Gretna Campbell, Louis Finkelstein, and Lee Bontecou among others. In late 1958 the couple returned to New York where Mason gave birth to their first daughter Cecily in 1959. In 1963 the family returned to Italy. Their daughter Melany was born in Rome in 1964. In 1968 the couple bought a farm in Brattleboro, Vermont where she would spend her summers painting. In an interview with magazine Western Art & Architecture, Mason explained, “It is important to balance city life with experiencing nature. Winter in the city is the time for the fermentation of ideas. Summer is my time to carry them out.”
Mason’s career began to flourish in the 1960s. She was awarded her first solo exhibition in 1960 at the Area Gallery in New York City.
In 1979 she was invited to teach painting at Hunter College by artist, Sanford Wurmfeld. She worked there for the next three decades.
In The Brooklyn Rail, publisher Phong Bui describes Mason’s position between abstract expressionism and color field painting, noting: “She was interested in neither the former’s existential angst nor the latter’s use of absorbed color pigments on raw canvas (she paints on primed canvases). By allowing painterly gestures to coexist with thin, poured layers in a wide range of colors in all manner of hues and saturations, Mason is able to amplify her colors—which are infused with forms that derive from both memory and free association with concrete surroundings in nature—while embracing their complex tonalities.” (Source)