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Emily Mason was born in Greenwich Village, New York City in 1932 to Alice Trumbull Mason and Warwood Edwin Mason. Her mother was a founder of the American Abstract Artists. Her father was sea captain for American Export Lines. She attended The High School of Music & Art from 1946 to 1950. She attended Bennington College from 1950 to 1952. In 1952, Mason transferred from Bennington College to the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, She graduated in 1955.
In 1956, Mason was awarded a Fulbright grant to study in Italy. Before moving there, she met fellow painter Wolf Kahn, who later joined her in Venice. They married there in March 1957 at the municipal building near the Rialto Bridge, witnessed by strangers and friends including filmmaker Tinto Brass. Her work earned her a second year of the Fulbright grant which they spent between Venice and Rome, visiting other artists Gretna Campbell, Louis Finkelstein, and Lee Bontecou. In late 1958 the couple returned to New York where Mason gave birth to their first daughter Cecily in 1959. In 1963 the family returned to Italy. Their daughter Melany was born in Rome in 1964.
Mason's career began to flourish in the 1960s. She was awarded her first solo exhibition in 1960 at the Area Gallery in New York City. In the intervening years, she has had many solo exhibitions. Mason continues to exhibit her paintings in New York at the Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe Gallery in New York and LewAllen Gallery in Santa Fe.
In The Brooklyn Rail, publisher Phong Bui describes Mason's position between abstract expressionism and color field painting, noting: "She was interested in neither the former's existential angst nor the latter's use of absorbed color pigments on raw canvas (she paints on primed canvases). By allowing painterly gestures to coexist with thin, poured layers in a wide range of colors in all manner of hues and saturations, Mason is able to amplify her colors—which are infused with forms that derive from both memory and free association with concrete surroundings in nature—while embracing their complex tonalities."
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