The Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery: John Mason Exhibition Offers a “Meditation on Material”

This fall, the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College is exhibiting a monumental installation by John Mason, one of America’s leading sculptors. After World War II, Mason was one of the seminal figures of the California ceramics movement, which upended studio pottery’s traditional focus on utilitarian ware to create sculptural forms. Meditation on Material: John Mason’s Firebrick Installations re-creates his 1973 installation Irvine, consisting of approximately 4,500 firebricks. Photographs and drawings of Mason’s 1978 Hudson River series, which appeared at six major museums across the country, are also on view.

One of the prime movers of the “clay revolution,” Mason created works in clay that claimed equal footing with art in other media. Though still considered a ceramicist, his experimentation with clay catapulted his work beyond the craftsman tradition and into contemporary, large-scale abstract sculpture. Mason’s Hudson River series marked a turn to manufactured firebricks as a medium, illuminating the artist’s deep interest in the role of the viewer in the process of perception. Mason realized that the bricks, when viewed from different positions, would offer novel information about the work’s surface, texture, color, and position in space. In this way, the viewer’s experience of the piece is dynamic rather than static. “We’re dealing with measurement,” said Mason of his firebrick works. “We’re dealing with interval, we’re dealing with progression, we’re dealing with sequence.”

“Mason has created a substantial body of sculpture with a wide, expressive reach,” says Mary MacNaughton ’70, Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Director of the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery. “His Irvine installation is visually stunning; it quietly draws viewers into a meditative experience.”

“At Scripps, Mason has long been considered an important sculptor,” MacNaughton continues. “His work is in the permanent collection and has appeared many times in our Ceramic Annual exhibition, which for 75 years has featured new directions in clay. In 2012, as part of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time initiative, the Williamson Gallery featured his massive expressionist sculptures of the 1950s in the exhibition Clay’s Tectonic Shift: John Mason, Peter Voulkos and Ken Price, 1956­â€“1968. We thought now would be a good time to revisit Mason’s equally compelling geometric work of the 1970s, and this became the focus of Meditation of Material.”

In conjunction with the exhibition, Scripps College is also publishing JOHN MASON: Sculpture 1950–2010, the first comprehensive book on John Mason’s rich sculptural career. There will be a public opening of the exhibition on Saturday, September 15, from 7 to 9 p.m., that will include live music and light refreshments. The exhibition runs through October 21.

For more information, visit the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery website.