Sunday, December 11, 2011

George Mason: Damariscotta Mills, Maine

 [Lynette Haggard's invited artist interview series] 

Artist George Mason

Please share a little about yourself.

I live in Damariscotta Mills, Maine in a converted church with my wife Susan, who is an acupuncturist. Our kids Zoe (20) and Aaron (17) have recently gone off to school. Our home is just around the corner from the Damariscotta Lake swimming hole and we can see the Great Salt Bay over the trees. There are birds everywhere, including a nesting pairs of eagles, osprey, Great Blues, cormorants, and loons; especially when the alewives return in May. It’s a beautiful setting to live and work. Watching and being part of the rhythm of the seasons here deeply influences my studio practice.

Land of Nod


21” x 20”
Plaster, carpet, casein paint, encaustic, gold leaf

Did you receive formal art training?

I received my B.F.A. in ceramics from Cranbrook Academy of Art and my M.F.A. from The College of Ceramics at Alfred University. I also went back to school to complete a master’s degree in acupuncture from the Academy for Five Element Acupuncture.

Detail; Pastoral
plaster, pigment, burlap, encaustic

At what point did you become interested in making art and was there a certain point when you decided you were primarily an artist?

My Mother encouraged me as a youngster and she loved to paint. In high school I felt, “I can do this”. As a young adult, art was a continent that was difficult for my Father to visit, a kind of refuge, while at the same time a vehicle to prove myself, (probably to my Father).

I found the artist vs. craftsman debate that went on for years to be so tiresome and not helpful. Neither label is useful for what happens when I am in my studio.

36” x 62”
Commission; collection of Joy Leventhal
plaster, burlap, casein paint, encaustic, gold leaf

What is your current work about?

I create conditions - experiments, that I then follow with great curiosity. It turns out that, for me, having an idea may be less important than being open to inquiry for its own sake.

This appears to involve listening, trusting that the present provides, and following the thread of what is observed. The materials I experiment with include plaster, burlap, pigment, casein paint, encaustic, indoor-outdoor carpet, kitchen floor vinyl, and shower stall underlayment.

The active questions that continue to invite exploration are qualities such as light and shadow, texture and relief, the primacy of gravity, and longing.

George Mason in Studio
   Shelter 3
   6"10" x 13'
   Plaster, pigment, burlap, casein paint, encaustic

Plaster, pigment, burlap
current Coleman Burke Gallery installation

What is your workspace like?

Since we live in what was a church, I have more space than most. The ground floor is my wet work area, and the Sanctuary is the assembling/display/gallery area. Another room serves as my encaustic kitchen. Our Family lives upstairs above the Sanctuary.

George Mason's home and studio

George Mason in the encaustic kitchen

Are you involved with any arts group or communities? If yes, what do you gain from that affiliation and what do you contribute to it?

I helped found Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts in Edgecomb, Maine. This coming summer will be the official 25th anniversary with all kinds of events and shows planned in July during the symposium session and the “Salad Days” Fundraiser. It is satisfying to see Watershed have a life of its own; one that is centered in relationship and exploration. Watershed provides clay, a place to live, and wonderful food, and then tries to stay out of the way. Peers interact, and no surprise, something happens.

Shelter 4
6'6" x 13'
Plaster, pigment, burlap, casein paint

Detail; Shelter 2
Plaster, pigment, burlap

In 2010, after being incredibly moved by a Shostakovich piece at the Salt Bay Chamberfest here in Maine, I proposed making companion pieces for their 2011 season in the Darrow’s Barn Concert Hall. Through the winter I listened to the Brahms and Faure works that were to be presented, and they created a wonderful setting, almost like a cathedral, for my ongoing studio work to live in. The modern works by Esa Pekka Salonen, Pintscher, and Schoenberg were more challenging. Like many contemporary composers, they are working with raw materials, bending the ear, exploring the range of sound and texture. In a visual way, this is similar to what I am trying to do; exploring the range of the materials I’m working with.

From this collaboration with Salt Bay Chamberfest I observed that there is stillness around sound, which articulates the sound, and that stillness has a spatial component. Whether it surrounds sound or it surrounds visual elements, stillness is unconditioned space; It’s the Big Rest!

39” x 40”
Plaster, pigment, burlap, encaustic

How do you develop a sense of community with other artists, and how do you support your art colleagues?

When I was younger I tended to avoid the company of other artists. My feeling was, “why would I want to spend time complaining with others that feel as marginalized as I do?” I was also probably competitive, comparative, and judgmental. Of course, in hindsight, that was both foolish and arrogant. In a rural place its important to have a network of support that can help sustain a context that is meaningful.

100 Meetings
9’10” x 9’
Plaster, pigment, burlap, casein paint, encaustic, gold leaf

Detail: 100 Meetings
9’10” x 9’
Plaster, pigment, burlap, casein paint, encaustic, gold leaf

Do you ever get stuck with your work and how do you remedy this?

Getting stuck with my work is the beginning of the work. Images of a “Result” run headlong into the fact of what is actually happening. Any notion of what the experience ought to be has the opportunity to surrender to the conditions at hand. This is the actual work, and it is not repeatable. This, as far as I am concerned, is the terrifying jewel of a studio practice: not knowing, and meeting something for the first time. I feel that the emphasis on finding a remedy compounds the so called “problem”. Getting as close as possible to “stuck”; being interested in “stuck”; observing and understanding “stuck” is what’s important. Fixing it is trivial. “Stuck” is an active question; air it out. I put what’s “stuck” up, or lay it out on the floor and leave it; sometimes for 6 months. In time the in passing glance clarifies how to re-enter; or the piece remains active as an open question, and as such, very alive, and somehow inevitable, requiring that I make room for it as it is. Or what’s “stuck” just goes dead, and there’s nothing happening anymore. It basically has excused itself from the room; no decision needed.
The other “stuck” is the timidity that arises when I get attached to some anticipated result. Am willing to loose a piece by going too far? The studio is the place to find out. The pieces I ruin often become the seeds for something unanticipated and useful.

I have noticed that my curiosity is receptive, whereas my will is ambitious and characterized by struggle, and involves the ever present “should”. In the end I’m more productive engaging my curiosity than marshalling my will. I am not saying that conscious intent is not part of the equation, but the hands are intelligent, too. Just beginning beckons a response.

Receiving Tears

Do you have any particular habits that you think support your art practice?

*Accepting that my pre-disposition, my own backyard, and my quirky questions are worthy materials to give voice to, helps support my practice. This can feel like a kind of resignation sometimes, if I’m in a comparative frame of mind; wishing I were a rose rather than an iris. The problem isn’t being an iris; the problem is “the wanting” that kicks in when I compare and measure. There’s plenty to explore even with modest materials like plaster and burlap. There are worthy questions close at hand, even though they may feel too familiar, too simple. When tended with interest and sustained attention, they can reveal a depth and dignity that is riveting.

*In Five Element Acupuncture being able to identify a variety of specific odors is important for diagnosis, but it is hard to do. It requires an active receptivity, and no amount of determination “to get” the smell will help. Somehow this relates to what goes on in the studio. The activity is very circular and I may move from one table to the next, following the hint of a thread, or simply flowing around obstacles to eddy where there’s a place that is active and welcoming.

*I try not to allow notions of career to influence my inquiry.

*I warm up by cleaning.

Nourishing the Old
35" x 39"
Plaster, pigment, burlap, casein paint, encaustic

Do you have other jobs other than making art?

I am an acupuncturist but I am no longer seeing clients. I have kept my license active because there are opportunities to help veterans and others with an effective PTSD protocol.

I missed the studio, so I am back at it fulltime again.

For me, making art is not a job; it’s a calling. That may sound presumptuous. It may be presumptuous, but it is how I feel about it.

Where would you like to be in 5 years as far as your art making?

A studio practice is the real deal. Is it possible to bring a quality of attention that observes with interest the gap between what’s presenting and images of what should be happening? Can there be no struggle? Can there be the absence of fear? I’m curious to find out. How long will that take?

40" x 8'
Plaster, pigment, burlap, casein paint, encaustic
current Coleman Burke Gallery installation

Do you have any upcoming shows?

A new show has just opened at the spacious Coleman Burke Gallery in Brunswick, Maine in which I bring larger work away from the wall, having it suspended in space and double sided. Titled Multiples, this exhibit also features the sculpture of Mildred Johnson and Isabelle Pelisser. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday 10a.m. to 7p.m., through March 3rd. (In the Fort Andros Mill Building next to Frontier Café, 14 Maine St., Brunswick, Maine.)

Upcoming in July, as part of the 25th Anniversary celebration for the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts, there will be a show featuring the work of Chris Gustin, Lynn Duryea, and George Mason, who along with Peg Griggs helped start Watershed.

You can view more of George's work here:

Thank you George!