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A photograph of an all-white, large room with high ceilings; the walls have colorful, abstract paintings and prints hung on the walls, and an older woman with a light skin tone looks through prints spread out on a table.

Emily Mason


“I want to use the medium as directly as possible. Using paint and its inherent qualities–brilliance, transparency, opacity, liquidity, weight, warmth, and coolness–enables me to get my mind out of the way. These qualities guide me in a process of discovery which will determine the climate of the picture and define spatial relationships. While this approach results in certain kinds of places, I cannot name them but know instinctively when they appear.”


Born and raised in New York City, Emily Mason’s art education began in the studio with her mother Alice Trumbull Mason, a founding member of the American Abstract Artists. A graduate of New York City’s High School of Music and Art, she attended Bennington College and the Cooper Union. In 1956 she was awarded a two-year Fulbright grant to paint in Venice, Italy. There she studied at the Accademia delle Belle Arti where she first experimented with blotting and transferring paint onto the surface of the canvas. In 1957, at the Ponte de Rialto, Mason married painter Wolf Kahn (1927-2020), with whom she had two daughters.

Mason’s work has been widely celebrated for its distinctive vein of lyrical, luminous abstraction, influenced as much by her immersion in literature, craft, and the alchemical properties of oil paint as by the prominent movements of her formative years. Prolific in canvas,  paper, and printmaking, Mason expanded the limits of her media, directing her attention towards the singular experience of each work. Robert Berlind wrote in Art in America, “Mason works within the improvisational model of Abstract Expressionism, though notably without angst or bravado. Her oil on canvas paintings are distinguished by a sense of intriguing intimacy combined with uncompromising, though gentle, intensity. They evince a sense of structure within open, luminous space and juxtapose robust color harmonies with vivid contrasts that create an engaging optical vibration.”

Black and white portrait photograph of a woman with pale skin in front of an abstract painting; just her face and arms are shown as she leans her elbows on a flat surface.
Emily Mason in her New York City studio, 1991. Photography by Tommy Naess.

Since she emerged on the Tenth Street gallery scene in 1960 with Area Gallery,  Mason has exhibited regularly in New York City. In 1979 she was awarded the Ranger Fund Purchase Prize by the National Academy. Her work is included in numerous public and private collections.

In addition, Mason was a dedicated educator, and taught painting at CUNY Hunter College for more than 30 years.

In 2006, George Brazilier published Emily Mason: The Fifth Element, a comprehensive treatment of her work by David Ebony and Robert Berlind. In 2015, UPNE released her second monograph Emily Mason: A Light in Spring, featuring prints and paintings since 2005 and edited by Ani Boyajian with articles by David Ebony and Christina Weyl.

Mason passed away on December 10, 2019, the birthdate of her namesake, Emily Dickinson.

In 2023, in conjunction with the exhibition “Emily Mason: A New Surface, A New Problem” at Weber Fine Arts, the catalog with the same name was published, with an essay by Mira Dayal.

Mason’s recent exhibition, “The Thunder Hurried Slow: Paintings, 1968-1979,” was on view at Miles McEnery Gallery from December 14, 2023 – February 3, 2024. Curated by Dr. Barbara Stehle, this deeply contemplative show focused on Mason’s canvas production from the 1970s, a historically definitive era in her development as a painter.

A black and white photograph of a barn in the woods with an open front door; the open door reveals a woman with a light skin tone painting an abstract painting on the wall.
Emily Mason working on the painting “Midnight Slant” in her Brattleboro studio, 1986. Photographed by Jean E. Davis.