Along with his contemporary, Peter Voulkos, John Mason was one of the most important figures in American post-war ceramics. Born in Nebraska and raised in Nevada, Mason moved to Los Angeles when he was 22 to enroll at the Los Angeles Art Institute (now the Otis College of Art and Design) and then studied with Susan Peterson at the Chouinard Art Institute. In 1954, LAAI hired Peter Voulkos to head the ceramics department, where Mason would study at night after working independently during the day.
In 1957, Mason and Voulkos moved to a shared studio on Glendale Blvd. and acquired a large kiln, which they shared until 1959 and where Mason remained until 1965. During these years, Mason experimented freely with his chosen medium, clay, opting to work entirely by hand sans potter’s wheel. He pushed clay to its limits, developing innovative techniques and firing methods in a variety of sculptural modes from totemic vertical sculptures to monumental wall reliefs. The themes of his work—symmetry, rotation, mass, and integration of color and form—were established during this time and would be revisited throughout his career in consistently innovative and exciting ways. Mason’s considerable achievements helped transform clay from craft to fine art and opened the public’s eyes, both within and outside of the art world, to the possibilities of the medium.
Mason was, in addition to being a prolific artist, a respected educator. He taught part-time at Pomona College in Claremont from 1960 until 1967 followed by the University of California, Irvine where he was a key part of the group responsible for building a ceramics department. He remained at UC Irvine until 1974 and served as Chairman of the ceramics department his last year. Mason’s final academic position was at Hunter College in New York where he taught until retiring in 1985 to become a full-time studio artist again. Upon his return to Los Angeles, he returned to clay and worked well into his 80s, firing pottery in the same large kiln that he and Voulkos had built together in 1957.
Mason’s work was exhibited in many solo and group exhibitions throughout his career and can be found in numerous permanent collections including the American Craft Museum, New York; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; the Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena, CA, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art among others.
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