My Own History with Alden Mason: A remembrance of a brave and bumptious life.
— Greg Kucera
I first knew Alden Mason's work when, as a high school student, I would come into Seattle from Federal Way to see the galleries and what was being shown in 1973-74. Mason was showing his "Burpee Garden" series then at Polly Friedlander's roughly realized, but ever so chic, gallery space on Yesler Street. I remember the paintings as containing the most vivid, jewel-like colors and the most expressive, delightful paint surfaces I had yet seen in paintings in Seattle.
My own history with Mason continued at the University of Washington School of Art, where Mason taught for over thirty years. When I started college there in 1975, Alden taught me in drawing and design courses. Though I also had courses from influential professors such as Jacob Lawrence, Michael Spafford, Bob Jones and Michael Dailey, I always felt a kinship with Mason for his irreverence, and for his infectious view of life. He was an impressive teacher, and an even more important to me as an artist.
In 1979, I started to work part-time at Diane Gilson Gallery where Mason was represented. During my tenure at Gilson, I also began to work as a studio assistant to Mason, mixing paint, stretching, priming and framing his canvases. Mason proved to be an inventive, thoughtful artist in his studio, generous with his time, his advice, and the stories of his travels.
Working there, I saw his paintings from the time they were just blank rectangles of canvas (painted black), through his rough drawings on them in charcoal, and then through the eventual scratchy lines of paint that would become filled in with acrylic color, applied through squeeze bottles. These paintings moved back and forth between comically figural and completely patterned, eventually becoming, by the mid-1980s, large heads or monumental figures that filled the canvas from edge to edge. His drawings also featured similar figures but lacked the thickly textured patterns.
After Gilson closed in 1983, I opened my own eponymous gallery on Second Avenue. Alden took a great chance in being represented by my gallery, and through his trust and encouragement, other artists such as Gene Gentry McMahon, Francis Celentano, Roger Shimomura and Frank Okada, soon joined the gallery as represented artists. I could not have achieved any early success at the gallery without Alden's support, faith and loyalty.
In 1990, the gallery published a catalog on his "Courtship Series" with essays by Gerald Nordland and Bruce Guenther. In the forward I wrote, "Each new body of work seeks to explore uncharted territory. Each new painting promises to better translate his observations into a painterly language. Being summoned to Alden’s studio to view 'the most marvelous painting yet' has become a familiar and personal joke between us. Yet each time I hear excitement register in his voice over a new painting I am reminded that his lack of complacency keeps him vital."
My gallery represented Mason from 1983 to 1996. We did nine shows of paintings and drawings with him in that time and I am grateful for every one. Since 2003, Mason has been represented by Foster/White Gallery.
In 2008, we collaborated with Foster/White Gallery to produce two simultaneous exhibitions of Alden Mason's work in our two side-by-side galleries. Foster/White, because they represented the artist, showed his recent works in acrylic on canvas, or watercolor on paper. We showed his earlier work in an exhibition titled "Burpee Garden; Revisited: Paintings 1973-1976." Two of the paintings in our show were among those works Alan Stone acquired, then exhibited, and held onto for the intervening thirty-five years. We were pleased to present them for the first time in Seattle. In addition, we showed several "Burpee Garden" paintings and watercolors on resale from local private collections.