Bob Mason (1933-2005) went through many phases and experimentations with medium throughout his art career. From painting, mixed media, sculpture and site-specific installation, Mason explored a multitude of avenues to get his messages across. Focused primarily on the relationships between humans, animals and the earth, Mason activated viewers on spiritual, emotional and social levels.
His Romantic Geometry series from the early 1990s consisted of abstracted paintings on canvas that evoked the natural landscape, combining gestural energy (nature) with geometric shapes (human). Mason’s early interest in such themes continued to inform his work, stating that the challenge of being human is to “see ourselves again as part of natural history”.
One of his most striking and memorable works, emigration/MIGRATION/immigration (1994), encapsulates Mason’s key values. This site-specific installation saw crafted Caribou heads floating above bodies of water to emulate the effect of migrating animals crossing barriers. The foam heads were created by Sir John A MacDonald Secondary students – a detail that illustrates Mason’s efforts to include his local community and provide an educational angle to his works. To further explore the limits of human-made borders, his installation was shown at Cootes Paradise, Hamilton, as well as internationally in Italy. This work explores how humanity views nature as well as each other:
Examining issues of social mobility, xenophobia and pride of place, in this installation Mason focused on Canada’s first “immigrants” – migratory animals, caribou and birds. The inspiration for the caribou installation came to the artist during a visit to the Canadian Museum of Civilization where he saw a video of migrating caribou swimming across a river. The image planted the seed for themes he was to continue to explore such as the natural environment and human migration (Shirley Madill, Art Gallery of Hamilton brochure).
These themes evolved, and Mason imagined a new work that acted as a continuation to emigration/MIGRATION/immigration. This work Moving Home (1999) expanded on the idea of the human and animal want and need to migrate, to the opposite but equal drive of finding a home. Mason described this work:
The 1994 installation focused on issues of human and animal migration – the natural desire of all species to move freely to new territory. In my new installation… I focus on the equally compelling desire of all species – plants, animals and humans – not only to migrate, but also to seek ‘home’.
Mason enjoyed a long career in the arts, which began in 1954 when he graduated from the Ontario College of Art. He then settled back in Hamilton to complete his MFA at McMaster University and continued to be actively involved with not only art making, but teaching and community organization. Mason was a dedicated art educator for 19 years, teaching at institutions such as Lord Elgin High School and becoming an early supporter of the founding of Hamilton Artists Inc. In 2010, five years after Mason’s death, the Art Gallery of Hamilton held a retrospective of his life and works to honour his influential and prolific commitment to the arts scene in Hamilton.
Credits and further reading
Special thanks to Lisa Audette, Heidi Fallows and Sheila Greenspan.
Hamilton Arts & Letters: To the Lighthouse – Reflections on Robert Mason
Hamilton Arts & Letters: Robert Mason
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