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by Kathy Zimmerer

“Figure: Soft Grey,”
ceramic, 53 x 22 x 22", 2000.
Photo: Anthony Cunha.

“Figure: Ember,”
ceramic, 62 x 23 x 23", 1999.
Photo: Anthony Cunha.
(Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica) The vibrant power of John Mason’s early ceramic pieces continues to be refined and encapsulated in his new series of vertical stoneware sculptures. Mason uses torque and rhythm to twist the various planes of these pieces through space. The collected works have a repressed energy that slowly reveals itself in every twist and turn of clay. Mason’s ability to manipulate spatial concepts is striking as always, for these pieces have an undulating yet monumental presence as they wind their way through space.

A master ceramist, Mason is closely allied with Peter Voulkos, and the pioneering Otis Clay group. During the nineteen fifties and sixties, both artists pushed the boundaries of functional ceramics to the outer limits to create massive, energetic sculpture that broke the ceramic field wide open. Mason’s huge, rough pots, walls, monumental rectangles, x shapes and crosses are a testament to the enormous vitality and artistry that he pours into his work to the present. His vigor remains undiminished and is coalesced into these new works as they curve and spin through space.

During the seventies, Mason used firebrick in a series of restrained minimalist installations that still retain a richness of color and depth of form. Throughout the eighties Mason started to twist geometry around in his series of Torque vessels. Now he has wed the vibrancy of his early works to the geometric restraint of his firebrick installations to create these new totemic sculptures.

Spear Form is one of the most beautiful in the exhibit, with a pearl white surface; its gentle forms fold back on themselves in a poetic piece of origami in clay. Simple, yet powerful is Figure, a work in stoneware that has the spare dimensions of a constructivist piece guided by Mason artfully through space. Several other Figures, one in luminous silver and the other in a deeper hue of gray, continue Mason’s skillful use of rhythm and built-in contortion. While complex in their spatial existence, Mason’s pieces still retain the underlying monumentality and refinement that has always marked his work.

Surfaces, whether roughhewn or smooth, have always been immensely important to Mason. In his early work, the incredibly tactile surfaces were always balanced by the huge scale of his pieces to create a unified force in space. The surfaces of these new sculptures glow with an inner light, which only intensifies the dimensional movement of the pieces. The sculptures are fired in earth tones that reflect the source of their medium, yet it still gives them a transcendent aura.

Mason’s uncanny spatial facility and his underlying ability to endow the simplest piece with a massive grace flows through these vertical sculptures. As a pioneering ceramist, Mason continues to surprise and amaze as he invents new forms in clay, then twists them on their axis to take his audience on an interlocking journey through space.

“Figure: Soft Grey,”
ceramic, 60 x 18 x 16", 1998.
Photo: Anthony Cunha.

“Spear Form: Soft White,”
ceramic, 66 x 28 x 28", 1999.
Photo: Anthony Cunha.