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John Mason
Sculpture
November 18-Dec 30, 2000
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The latest evidence of John Masonís achievement is the exhibition of 20 slab-built pieces, ranging from 15 inches to 5 Ĺ feet high.  Encompassing three closely related seriesóVertical Torques, Spear Forms, and Figuresóthese glazed clay sculptures provide insight into the richness of Masonís repertoire.   Crisp, clear and similar as they may appear at first, they are packed with subtle complexities and variations.

The Vertical Torques are modular constructions of triangular slabs, joined at one end or two sides and then stacked in two to three tiers.  Rather like rectangular volumes that have been twisted and broken apart, they unfold into open compartments and peak in inverted pyramids.  Like all Masonís work, the Torques are sharply articulated, with variations in the glaze density that accentuate their diagonal joints.  Masterfully dynamic, they compel one to walk around them again and again.  But each aspect is different, so the work never reveals itself completely.

The Spear Forms and Figures are also powerfully elusive.  Like the unfolding Torques, they bring to mind large-scale origami, except that they are asymmetrical and unpredictable.  Rising to adult heights, they assume an almost human presence. Some of the tallest bear a slight resemblance to the fractured figure in Nude Descending a Staircase, Marcel Duchampís famous 1912 painting.  These works are also related to Italian Futurist painting and sculpture, which infused Cubist form with the appearance of movement.  As these historical connections suggest, Masonís work is grounded in modernist abstraction rather than ceramic traditions, but he has forged his own path as a sculptor in clay.

As his work has developed over 45 years, Mason has maintained a consistent sensibility and revisited early imagery.  At the same time, he has moved forward.  The early monolithic rectangles, crosses, and X-shapes have given way to more complicated geometric configurations.  And his Spear Forms gave new life to works he made on the wheel in the 1950ís and recall his first large-scale sculpture, made in 1957.  Now constructed of leather-dry slabs that fan out from a shifting center, the Spears are composed of adjoining slabs that create open-ended volumes.

The Figures are the surprise of the show because, as their title suggests, they push Mason into the unfamiliar (for him) territory of figurative art.  Experimenting with these works, he thought of them as abstractions.  But when he saw undeniable figurative qualities emerge, he acknowledged the shift.  Still fundamentally an abstractionist, he has pushed his own boundaries just far enough to give his work an additional dimension in this series.

The eight Figures on viewóglazed in blue, black, gray, white or earthtonesótaper toward the top while twisting their heads and torsos.  Some are sleek, straight-edged characters that might have been inspired by men in capes.  Others, relatively chunky, are curvilinear personages with protruding hips and saucy attitudes.  Despite Masonís longstanding interest in geometric abstraction and modular construction, he seems to have an intuitive knack for striking a balance thatís slightly off-kilter.  

Suzanne Muchnic, American Craft, December 2000