Michael Mason’s Single Line

It’s a slow Sunday afternoon and Michael Mason is a little discouraged at the low turnout for his one-man art show at the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Community Hall.

It probably doesn’t help that there’s work being done on the roof of the building and the entrance looks a bit like a construction zone.

Mason muses that he generally has a better turn out when he has these shows at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre, just across the street. We agree that it does look more like the sort of place you’d go to see an art show.

Mason has quite a range of pieces in this show. One table is covered with his jewelry designs in bone and metal: rings, pendants and other lovely things.

There are also intricate carvings of eagles, wolves and caribou, cut out of antler with a band saw and finely finished. The carvings have been his major focus of late.

The room is dominated by paintings however, some on Masonite board, most on canvas, all executed in the “one-line” style that he has been perfecting for the last 16 years or so.

On display is a piece from 1995, which shows one of the earliest expressions of his technique. In stark red line on a black background it shows an eagle going after a fish—a scene that he actually recalls witnessing.

In this work it is easy to see that every part of the image is generated by a single line that moves around the painting.

In some of his more crowded, newer work it is easy to imagine the line but there’s so much happening in the almost psychedelic image that it’s hard to follow it.

“Yes, you look at most of my images (of this type) and it distorts your eyes,” he agrees. He likes the fact that the newer canvases are crowded with images that reveal themselves in a different way every time you look at the work.

There’s more colour in the never pieces. He has found that an atmospheric wash helps to create a mood, while a bold single colour is still his preferred choice for the line that creates the image and tells the story. He’s pleased with his recent results.

What he isn’t happy with is the scale at which he is working. He’d like to do some really big canvases in that style, the size that you find in public buildings. He also like to find a bigger market to sell them in.

He’s been working more on the marketing of his art, having recently established a Facebook page, “Michael Mason, Artist”, where he has posted a few works and written a bit about what inspired him to create them.

Marketing is not what he wants to be spending his energy on, however. He’d like to find someone who could do that for him and let him concentrate on the creation of new works.

“I’m at the level now where I can create this stuff, all the images, but if I could find someone a partner, to just grab it and run with it, it’s marketable.”

Most of the images, whether carved or painted, come from his life and the stories of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people. While on a recent sojourn in Alaska, which began in 2010, he met more of his Hän relatives and learned many more bits of Athapascan lore. These have been influencing his 2011 and 2012 works.

His desire to find a larger market comes from more than just a wish to sell more work. He wants to enhance the general awareness of a native perspective.

“With all the spiritual connections that my family here and in Alaska have with the land today, still (it’s frustrating) that people can’t see this stuff and respect it. The storylines are just continuous and it just keeps going.

Mason has said in the past that if you placed all his work side by side you could even follow that one line from piece to piece. At this point, after the length of time he’s been at it, that would be one very long line.

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