St. Petersburg-based artist Cynthia Mason loves plaster, junk mail and gold – any material going up against a complementary material – anything that will scramble physical codes in garbled unison. Trained as an architect, she makes topographical wall constructions revealing how materials repel or merge, ooze and crack, how they patina and shift to show their existence. She writes in her artist statement, “These material interactions create moments and intersections that reflect the complexity and fragility of reality in spaces not yet recognized. Examining the placement and characteristic of each material shifts us from recognition to pure perception in moments of pure embodiment.”
Eva Avenue: I just have to start right out of the gate with this one – how did you end up at the Starry Night Retreat in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, and how did your time there impact your work or the evolution of your work? What did you learn?
Cynthia Mason: New Mexico has always intrigued me since reading a few books in 2012 on Georgia O’Keeffe and Agnes Martin. After learning how the New Mexico landscape inspired O’Keefe and Martin I had to figure out a way to get there. With fingers crossed I applied, got in and arrived for a month long February residency. My first stop before arriving at Starry Night was spending a cold winter night at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu. It was one of the most memorable and magical nights for me. I was the only overnight guest at the large retreat center and I couldn’t sleep. Instead I spent the night making static electricity in my bed. It was super dark and every time I moved my bed lit up… thrillingly tiring in the best way.
The next morning I headed down the Turquoise Trail to Truth or Consequences. Driving and road trips provide visual and mental stewing time. Being removed from my daily environment and responsibilities jolts me into new ways of seeing and thinking. I can’t go on autopilot in a new landscape I have to navigate and everything becomes information to decipher. I arrived at Starry Night my second night in New Mexico and was immediately intrigued by the expansive blue sky and surrounding pinkish tan mountains. Truth or Consequences is an amazing and therapeutic space. It’s a spa city with geothermal springs everywhere, I spent two to three days a week visiting hot springs during my four week stay and diving into making work. I learned how to slow down.
How does science play into your work?
Phenomenology, how we experience space through our senses is of great interest to me as well as the geological formation of landscape and archeology of space. The Cartesian Grid plays a large role in my work. I am fascinated by issues of private versus public space and coded systems of power in modern daily life. Gridding space gives human beings control over one another through our environment. My work is a parallel to the hidden classifications of power, and the ambiguous yet regulated framework of our visual environment. I mask what is below my painted surfaces, like faux facades hiding what is secret or hidden beneath.
What do you find inherently fascinating about your materials?
Materials are everything to me; they are the backbone of my work. I use materials to create contradictory conversations with one another. Paint, porcelain, linen, junk mail advertisements, pins, 24k gold leaf and Styrofoam reveal societal conceptions of material value. Ensnared within a constructed environment, the materials exploit the contradiction between what we know and actually see. This is where my work evolves: in the human coded space of the facade, emphasizing awareness of the area above and below the surface. I am interested in pushing my materials to the point of falling apart. Once the piece reaches a frail state, it’s my job to to save my haphazard and careless constructions from falling apart through makeshift construction methods.
Your work materializes poetry, like the Aggrandize Grid piece with the silvery moon from 2015. It’s engaging to look at in the way it’s engaging to read a well-written poem. Do you write poetry? Are you a writer?
Thank you for that! Writing is actually really hard for me. I’m glad to hear that my communication through visual language is coming through. I am really interested in semantics and how meaning is created and communicated. The ancient language of cuneiform is a huge influence on me right now with my It’s all here I swear series. I see cuneiform as gestures captured in space where writing systems, taxonomy and the structure of language solidify as place frozen in time. (See below)
If you had unlimited money, time and resources, is there a special art project you’d want to see through?
Yes! I would love to make 6 to 10 foot pieces from my new ‘draped structure’ and ‘puffed’ series. Right now I am working on small-scale versions but I would love for these pieces to become human size where the work fills the space of the viewer physically and peripherally.
What are you working on right now?
I am always working on a few series at a time; I always have my hands in different materials and ideas. Right now I am developing my new series where I create wood and porcelain grid structures that are draped and covered with linen. The first of this series ‘draped structure’ is in a group show curated by Julie Torres at Trestle Gallery, Brooklyn in January. I am expanding this series to an installation in my upcoming June 2017 solo show at Gallery 621 in Tallahassee. I am also finishing up a bunch of new Aggrandize Grids for a February group show at Arts on Douglas in New Smyrna Beach Florida, the Sarasota Fine Arts Society Creators and Collectors Tour Galleria and Organic Geometry at a new alternative art space in Sarasota mid March.