Emily Mason

Great Artists

"Semaphore," painting by Emily Mason

Emily Mason

Artist Emily Mason (1932-2019) spent a lifetime exploring and developing her own distinct style and artistic vision, creating stunning abstract paintings and prints of bold, luminous colors. (Read recent accolades for her art in a New Yorker piece, "Tone Control," by Jackson Arn, Jan. 29, 2024.) Her art is often described as intuitive and lyrical, inspired in part by the poetry of Emily Dickinson, for whom she was named, and by her natural surroundings in Vermont. From the late 1960s, Mason split her time between her studios in New York City and southern Vermont, where she and her artist husband Wolf Kahn (1927-2020) and their two daughters, Cecily and Melany, spent summers. She gained much of her inspiration from Vermont, of which she said, "There's a factor of nature that's Vermont. It sustains, in a beautiful way."* 

Emily Mason working in her NY studio
Emily Mason working in her New York City studio. Photo credit: Emily Mason Studio website

In describing her process of painting, she said,"I try to use paint for its brilliance, transparency, opacity, liquidity, weight, warmth and coolness. These qualities guide me in a process which will determine the climate of the picture. All the while I work to define spatial relationships, resulting in certain kinds of places. I cannot name them but know intuitively when they appear."**

Mason was surrounded by art and artists from childhood. She was born and raised in New York City, the daughter of pioneering abstract artist Alice Trumbull Mason, who was a founding member of the American Abstract Artists, and her father, Warwood Mason, a sea captain. She attended Bennington College and the Cooper Union, and was awarded a two-year Fulbright grant to study at the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Venice. During her time in Venice, she married Wolf Kahn. She had her first solo show in 1960 and exhibited her work regularly in New York, where she also taught painting at Hunter College for more than 25 years.

In a Vermont Public interview* aired in 2019, Mason said, “I like a painting to take me to a place I haven’t been. You know, I don’t want to know anything that’s preconceived. I think that holds you up, or back.”

In the process of painting, she said, ideas and forms arise. “The place to try to go to is to zone out, to get your mind out of the way so that you really touch something deeper inside of you,” Mason said. “And you’re not trying to do something — either copy yourself, or do somebody else’s rules or something. You want to sort of get rid of all that, things that inhibit your process.”

4 paintings by Emily Mason in vibrant colors
[Art by Emily Mason, left to right, Equal Paradise; Landscapes, Seascapes, Fire Escapes; Semaphore, Marrow of the Day; Emily Mason Studio website]

*Vermont Public interview with Howard Weiss-Tisman, aired Jan. 3, 2019
**Emily Mason Studio website 
Emily Mason obituary, New York Times, Feb. 7, 2020
About AliceTrumball Mason

If you are inspired by this artist, respond to the challenge with your own creations!