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Friday, March 21, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Visual Arts

Veteran artist is still breaking new ground

Seattle Times art critic

Exhibit review


Alden Mason, new paintings, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. Sundays, through March 30, Foster/White Gallery, 123 S. Jackson St., Seattle (206-622-2833 or www.fosterwhite.com).

The Alden Mason paintings at Foster/White are all recent, but they provide a mini-retrospective of the past 30 years of his career.

The former University of Washington professor retired from teaching in 1981 (he'd been on staff in the art department since 1949) and has been happily painting away ever since. He's also been doing a lot of gallery hopping — never the best thing for an artist's career. In the past decade, Mason has shown at Greg Kucera, the former Meyerson-Nowinski Gallery, and Woodside/Braseth. The current exhibit is his Foster/White debut.

Mason starts off the show by looking back. The small watercolor "Fuzzy Wuzzy Landscape" is reminiscent of Mason's lush transparent oil abstractions that the artist reveled in before his doctor made him switch to less-toxic acrylics in the mid-'70s.

Then there are some of his squiggly acrylics, none quite so tightly wound or thickly built-up as the earliest ones he did in the medium. Here the relaxed, lazy, squishy paint application makes the goofy, grade-school-kid pictures of chickens, camels, strangled-looking birds and flying people seem even funnier. And Mason, bad boy that he is, always throws in a touch of naughtiness, too, if you look for it. These pictures are frisky and fun.

But the best part of the show is watching Mason — at age 83 — push beyond that. He breaks new ground in paintings such as "Fragmented Totem," which blows apart the composition into a debris field of tantalizingly unrecognizable forms scattered on a field of fleshy pink. There's nothing directly violent or disturbing in the picture, but it resonates like a car bomb

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