Gilbert Mason 1913-1972
From time to time people email me with additional snippets about Gilbert's life and works. Subject to permission I will publish them here as well as adding key facts to the home page:
Dear Mr Hindle,
I came across your website devoted to the work of the artist Gilbert Mason when I was doing research on a series of art exhibitions called 'The Annual Open Exhibition of Contemporary Welsh Painting and Sculpture', which were organised by the Welsh Committee of the Arts Council between 1953 and 1969. It might interest you to know that Gilbert Mason exhibited a work called 'Winter Orchard' at the 2nd Open Exhibition of Contemporary Welsh Painting and Sculpture at the National Museum of Wales in February/March 1955. It was one of nine pictures which the Welsh Committee bought for its prestigious Welsh Collection. The painting was later bequeathed to the Newport Museum and Art Gallery when the Arts Council of Wales dispersed the Welsh Collection in 2005. I have a list of the paintings in the Welsh Collection which shows that 'Landscape' was the only painting of Mason's to be bought by the Welsh Committee.
Mason exhibited another painting called 'Landscape' (94" x 76.2") at the 3rd Open Exhibition of Contemporary Welsh Painting and Sculpture in 1956. This was bought for 30 guineas by John Petts (the Art Director of the Welsh Committee) on behalf of the Contemporary Art Society for Wales. The Contemporary Art Society for Wales had a policy of buying artwork by Welsh artists to give to museums, galleries and other public buildings in Wales. Mason's painting was donated to Cardiff City Council. You can see the details yourself on the Contemporary Art Society for Wales's website (http://www.casw.org.uk/english/default.aspx) under the 'Acquisitions' section.
I haven't been able to view either 'Winter Orchard' or 'Landscape' as yet. But it is perhaps worth noting that the Welsh Committee of the Arts Council was very keen at the time to encourage paintings which expressed a concern with 'the life, people and spirit of Wales'. The dominant artists in Wales during the 1950s were figures like Ceri Richards, Ernest Zobole, Kyffin Williams, Eric Malthouse, Charles Burton, John Elwyn and Josef Herman, but I've not come across any mention of Gilbert Mason during my research. It seems likely that, because he was based in Birmingham, he remained out of the loop of the Welsh art world. Nevertheless, having two paintings bought by the Welsh Committee of the Arts Council and the Contemporary Art Society for Wales was quite an achievement. The Welsh Collection was established specifically by the Welsh Committee to 'set a standard [for Welsh art] by selecting pictures both on their merits as works of art and as evidence of trends in the right direction in Welsh painting'. In other words, Mason's painting was bought because it set a standard for other artists in Wales to follow.
I hope this information is of use to you. I'm afraid I don't know any more about Mason's life or work, but if you want any more information about the visual arts in post-war Wales in general, then let me know. I wrote my doctoral thesis on this topic a few years ago.
Whilst recently sorting through a collection of my work going back to the early 1960s I came across two of Gilbert's rapid life drawings made as an aid to me in my struggles. I was reminded of his superb draughtsmanship and in my nostalgia to remember him I discovered your web site.
My memory of Gilbert goes back to my time in the Painting School at Birmingham College of Art in 1961/63. He worked mostly on hardboard (as we all did) and used an odd assortment of media, for example, I believe he would regularly lay in an undercoat of household emulsion as a base for building up luminous glazes with lacquers and oils. When he was at his best he was a poet but I can remember occasions when he would arrive on a Monday morning clutching three or four three feet by four feet paintings on board , the result of a busy weekend. He would pass these onto the college framer for an exhibition at short notice. Some of these were superficially attractive but in truth rather slick and did not do him credit when compared with his more considered work. He was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, where there is a drawn portrait of Bernard Fleetwood-Walker, his predecessor at Birmingham college of Art. There are two very fine etchings by him in Birmingham City Art Gallery. I also have the illustrated catalogue from the memorial exhibition held shortly after his death at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists Gallery.
Thank you for posting some examples of Gilbert Mason's work and thank you for saving some of his archive when you did. Inheritance can be a responsibility. How sad so little value was placed upon his ability. Many artists benefitted from contact with him. A fellow student of mine is John Walker,an International artist now resident in New York,he struck up a close relationship with Mason. There are others.
By his example he invited us to take risks with painting to find pictorial identity - to make an aesthetic object having visual integrity. For Mason picture making was a serious business for human activity.It was all about enjoying the risk,gambling for something better - pushing the boundaries for what a painting might become through hard work and concentrated activity. It would be so sad to have lost a collection of his work.