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John Mason



Stoneware with grog and quartz
31 x 12 x 12 in. (78.74 x 30.48 x 30.48 cm)
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation in honor of Billie Emert

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, John Mason shared his Los Angeles studio with his colleague Peter Voulkos. They fired their sculptures in a large kiln (almost six by six feet). “The idea in getting the kiln was to make some big things,” Mason remembered. “You had to find a way to move the stuff into the kiln after you made it, either lift it or slide it.” The two artists were exploring the physical limits and sculptural possibilities of clay, experimenting with new types of clay bodies, firing temperatures, and innovative ways of forming ceramic materials.

Untitled (1960) evokes the excitement of that time period and radical studio activity. “I started to make these totemic or vertical forms,” Mason said, “which I call vertical sculptures, and they had very interesting surfaces as the result of my manipulating the clay.” The rough physicality of this piece is evident not only in its solid mass but also in the boldly cut, hand-formed surface. A totemic, expressionistic sculpture with a typically dark coloration, it lends credence to the artist’s admiration for primitive artworks, which he called “really mysterious and powerful objects. And there’s no way you can copy that stuff.”

Built around a central axis, Untitled (1960) achieves its presence through an additive process of pushing and manipulating the clay in a direct, frontal approach. It represents a sharp break from the traditions of pottery and points out the direction of Mason’s work with mass, physicality, and rotation in the coming decades.

Frank Lloyd

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