John Mason. Photo: John Mason Studio.

John Mason (1927–2019)

John Mason, known for synthesizing ceramics and modular geometric forms with Abstract Expressionism, died on January 20 at the age of ninety-one at his home in California. Mason, together with Ken Price, Ron Nagle, and Paul Sodner, formed a tight-knit group of ceramicists while at the Otis Art Institute (now the Otis College of Art and Design) in Los Angeles, where Mason went to study art and ceramics in 1949. In 1957, he and Peter Voulkos established a studio with a large kiln, and he soon started making large-scale wall reliefs with geometric forms, pushing clay and ceramics past their traditional utilitarian limitations. 
“Since the late ’60s, all of Mason’s sculptures, whether monolithic or site-specific, have emerged from an investigation of geometric form,” Jeff Kelley wrote in the summer 1986 issue of Artforum. “Mason’s twist is like the vertical rotation of an object as it rises out of a drawing. The planes of drawing become the surfaces of sculpture, which in turn contract the object-as-image back toward drawing. It’s a kind of conceptual sculpting, pertaining equally to the object and to the idea behind it.”
Mason was born Alva John Henry Jr. on March 30, 1927, in Madrid, Nebraska. His work was shown at Los Angeles’s influential Ferus Gallery and, in 1966, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In 1974, the Pasadena Museum of Modern Art staged a midcareer survey that included his early firebrick works, for which he would stack firebricks on museum floors and build environmental, site-specific sculptures. Mason would rent the bricks from manufacturers, and at the end of the exhibitions disassemble and return them. For his “Hudson River Series,” 1978, he created six brick installations in six different venues, from the Hudson River Museum in New York to the Corcoran Museum in Washington, DC. The 1980s saw his return to ceramics, and he continued to make new work throughout this decade.