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Interview: Emily Margarit Mason's Glass and Shadows

Interview: Emily Margarit Mason's Glass and Shadows

Lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?

I spent most of my childhood in bodies of water in Florida. I was always covered in sand with pockets full of shells and rocks. I have memories of spinning around in circles just to look at the clouds in a different way. Looking closely has always been one of my strengths—sharp eyes as my mum would say. I counted all the alligators in every retention pond and gave a name to any birds I was unsure of. The natural world has always left me in wonder, paying attention to the smallest details yet feeling engulfed in the vastness. Learning to look respectfully, touch, and remember the earth is what led me to become an artist.

Studio Sketch

What is your background? and how did it inform the focus of your creative exploration or the medium you're currently working with?

Before I knew I was an artist, I was a competitive swimmer for ten years. Though this feels so far away and separate from art-making, I’ve found they both require similar philosophies: art-making is an endurance sport. Some days you have an amazing practice, while other days feel redundant and stagnant. It’s all part of the process of progress. I always have to start in the studio with a ‘warm-up,’ never jumping right into art-making. A nice stretch of the mind is sometimes needed. Looking at a photo book, rearranging cut pieces of random prints, or looking at things in my studio with binoculars are all light stretches for me.

I attended Maryland Institute College of Art from 2010-2014. Here, I was blown away daily by my incredibly talented peers. I befriended mostly painters, sculptors, and ceramic artists. Their processes and studio spaces inspired me more than I understood at the time. Photo students were not given studio space, so I always had to set up my work space in a basement or a corner of the bedroom. This was the beginning of learning what practice meant for me.

Studio Sketch

What ideas interested you in the beginning of your practice, which ideas have you continued to explore, and where have they led you?

When I first began taking photos, I was mainly shooting film and experimenting with alternative processes, spending hours in the dark room. I photographed the things that were closest to me, usually making portraits of family and friends. Although this subject matter is vastly different from current work, I still had an incessant need to use my hands. When I switched over to digital photography, I was floored by the simplicity. I felt the need to do more, to create more layers, and to engage with different processes. Using photographic prints as a material began my junior year at MICA. I became enthralled with memory and how it can be altered over time and space. At the same time I began experimenting with materials and questioning what a photograph could be. Using old family photos, I would put each photograph through a different process based on the memory—some were baked into cakes, boiled in salt water, or buried in the dirt. The final product was the physical print cast in a resin block: a memory transformed and solidified. This project was groundbreaking for me and left me with even more questions than answers, which ultimately deepened my want for exploration.

The First Act’, 20x30, Archival Pigment Print, 2019

Who were and are the biggest sources of your inspiration?

Some of my greatest inspirations are mother nature, my creative friends, my supportive community, my siblings, and my partner.

The processes and philosophies of Barbara Kasten, Corita Kent, and Laszlo Maholy-Nagy deeply inspire me.

yoga mat, glass, 2014 from series ‘eye-hand/hand-eye’

Where do you find inspiration?

Every day I am inspired by something new, whether it is the way light falls on a plant or stone, a vast landscape, or cloud shadows moving over a mountain. I am intrinsically drawn to refractions and reflections.  

jet stream cross, sand blasted, 2014 from series ‘eye-hand/hand-eye’

Is there are a single work, project, or series that is pivotal in your current trajectory?

My series ‘eye-hand/hand-eye’ was very pivotal for me. I began reconsidering personal familiar spaces through the process of rephotographing. I was layering found objects like glass, plastic, and rocks on top of photographic prints. In physically altering the two-dimensional photographic plane, I was creating compressed perspectives that defied the assumed monocular view the camera lens typically offers. The content of each final piece was a visceral and emotional response to the original space.

window, plastic refraction, 2014 from series ‘eye-hand/hand-eye’

How did it begin? and how did it evolve?

I began by taping up pieces of found materials to my studio wall. As time passed I became enamoured by how the light would pour in and out of the room and I saw the objects transforming. I then started placing these objects on top of the prints, pairing each found material with the images I was making at the time. This is very similar to how I create now: living with the objects and prints on the walls of my studio, allowing latent compositions to surface organically.

Glass and Shadows in the Arroyo’, 30x45, Archival Pigment Print, 2020

What were important lessons in the process that you’ve carried forward with you?

Having an expansive definition of productivity has been integral to my practice. For example, watching a sunset or sunrise can be a catalyst to production. I have found intimate moments like these are just as important to my practice—if not more important—than spending hours in the studio. It’s all about balance. I need to see and experience the world in real time to be able to make the work.

Desert Five Spot in the Wind’, 20x30, Archival Pigment Print, 2019

What are you working on now?

Right now I am moving forward/away from my latest series, ‘A Balancing Act’. In this series I was exploring moments of visual instability, utilizing form, repetition, and color to build upon the existing captured images. The fragmented images mimic a moment you could almost remember. Pieces of the memory come in and out of focus, rendering the details close to the viewer but far, familiar but distant. Components are altered, removed, and repositioned. In turn, this series deepened the viewer’s perception of recollection, time, and image-making.

I am currently in the play/working stages, or ‘plorking,’ a term Corita Kent coined. Going to the studio and making whatever I want, no pressure. I am interested in returning to a table top still life set up and adding more dimensionality and alternative printing processes. Right now I am waiting for some prints of work on weather-proof silk and some large prints of mylar reflections.

A Wet Sunset’, 30x45, Archival Pigment Print, 2020

If you could go back in time to the very beginning of your art practice and give your younger self a single piece of advice what would it be?

You don’t need to know ‘why’ right away. If you put in the work the answers will become clear. Sometimes the work knows itself better than you do, and it will reveal its true nature over time. Experimentation is necessary for progress. Go to the studio, even if it’s just to sweep the floor. Ideas of productivity are different for everyone.

Soaking Glass on a Ripple’, 30x45, Archival Pigment Print, 2020

About the Artist

Based in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Emily Margarit Mason is an artist whose photography reimagines the perceived natural world from something seen to something felt, exploring how the multifaceted nature of experience might manifest emotionally. She earned her Bachelor's Degree in Photography with a minor in Book Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland. Her work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions in Baltimore, New York City, Milwaukee, Chicago, Miami, and Santa Fe. Emily is currently living and working in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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