Saturday, September 15, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Mason Paints Images That Seem To Be Alive

``Courtship Series,'' recent paintings and drawings by Alden Mason at Greg Kucera Gallery, 608 Second Ave. through Sept. 30, 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday, 624-0770.

Alden Mason has been wedded to a creative life for some 50 years, but he's still engaged in an artistic courtship. As the paintings in his ``Courtship Series'' reveal, Mason continues to revel in the delight of not quite knowing an outcome, of hoping for a response, and of discovering new terrain.

Included in the glossy exhibit booklet accompanying Mason's current show at Greg Kucera Gallery is a recent photograph of the Northwest master standing amused and at ease with two Huli tribesmen of Papua New Guinea. Mason's explorations into primitive traditions such as the Huli Sing-Sing celebration provide him with a wealth of themes and titles - ``Bride Price Taboo,'' ``Twenty Pigs Dowry'' and so on.

More to the point, as exotic places and ceremonies spark the artist's joyful interaction with acrylic paints, they are transformed. Rising from a seething black and white background with hints of color, the forms in Mason's current series take on a life of their own. The Mudmen of New Guinea coat their bodies as if they were canvases; Mason turns his canvases into breathing, vibrant bodies that seem to dance upon the wall.

The ``skin'' of a Mason painting peels further back from its decorative surface the longer one looks. In ``Lunar Guardian,'' for instance, at least five levels of vision are in operation, without anything so simple as foreground and background. The central figure is skeletal and a little scary, and yet somehow solid in its stance and presence.

Mason's use of point of view is wonderful. Consider ``Yucatan Journey,'' in which the eye is drawn along a forested river passage. Bird's-eye vision melds with knowledge of the land in a dreamlike way. Simultaneous experience is also part of ``Garden of Eden Taboo,'' in which a dying bird, a black moon and other portents emerge from a crowded scene of seemingly abstract elements.

Several of Mason's earlier pieces, especially one of the first in the ``Burpee Garden Series,'' add depth to the Kucera show. Look for a painting from 1972, when Mason was still working in oils, in which the fruity colors almost steam with translucent heat. Then return to ``Garden Kit,'' a new painting, in which tools, seed packets, root vegetables and other images have pigment laid on with a slapdash but sure artistic trowel.

Despite surface differences, both paintings reflect Mason's ongoing fascination with art as a way to ``square'' the circles and cycles of the natural world with his own experience. One frequent image in Mason's paintings is a grinning coyote. This intelligent, curious trickster of legend might well be a symbol of the artist's own engaging spirit.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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