Mason Archie Sees the Light
by D. Amari Jackson
There’s something about the light… the way it glows, the warmth, the serenity. Like glowing embers in a dying fire. You can feel the warmth, even bask in it, as your eyes step into one of Mason Archie’s enchanting images, be it the golden red rays of sunset illuminating a pristine marshland or a glowing, unbroken field of snow.
“Often, with my work, I’ll hear there’s a serenity to it, that the mood of it is serene,” acknowledges Mason, a successful oil painter specializing in landscapes. A resident of Indianapolis, Mason employs an Old Master style of layers while, to a degree, incorporating a mixed palate of Hudson River School technique and Impressionism. “Generally, when I am painting or especially when I’m doing landscape, I am painting how light, the atmosphere, and what is going on in the day affects the scene that you see.” So, with a piece like Sunset Across the Marshland (2014), “you’re going to know that the sun is pretty much going to affect the colors of everything that is there,” with the sunlight “bouncing off the marshes.”
“When you see that sun coming across, how is it hitting each clump of marsh that’s higher than the other?” probes Mason. “What shadows is it creating and, if there’s trees in it, how is it hitting across water? How does the light affect the reflections you’re going to see? And is there going to be a warmth right on the other side of the reflection that you’re seeing?” When done effectively, continues Mason, “the piece feels natural to the viewer, like he’s seen it before. And his eyes can just relax and enjoy it. Everything is right there, and that’s what his eyes are used to seeing.”
Given Mason is used to enjoying success in the fields of commercial and fine art as he has for four decades—his much sought-after landscapes can be found in such private corporate collections as Wells Fargo Bank, Eli Lilly, and Nationwide Insurance—it is only natural to wonder how he himself came to see the light.
A native of Dayton, Ohio, Mason’s prowess for art emerged early as local teachers recognized his considerable talents, putting him to work drawing diagrams for class lessons and painting backdrops for school plays. Given his impoverished upbringing, and that his parents never owned a car, an art teacher from the local Boys and Girls Club would pick him up from his house to bring him to art classes.
“Mason was one of those young artists that you saw had great talent and potential,” says Willis Bing Davis, a longtime mentor, artist, and former public school art teacher in Dayton. “But he also had a tremendous drive, like an athlete, to really want to excel. It was that obvious.” Further, adds Willis, “he always had a seriousness about himself and about his work.”
Fortunately, as a good student with good attendance, Mason was able to attend Patterson Co-Op, a unique public high school in downtown Dayton where he could devote a significant part of his coursework to the field of art. The school, which offered a two weeks on-two weeks off schedule, also helped the promising 16-year-old land a job at Lamar Advertising Company where he immediately worked forty hours a week painting 14 x 48 foot billboards during his recurring two weeks off from school. The company, one of the largest outdoor advertising companies in the world, was sold on Mason and his rare talent from day one. The capable high-schooler was soon making more money than his parents. “By the time I was 19, which was really unusual, I’d already worked for them for three years,” notes Mason who, upon school graduation, was promoted to art director. “They literally put me over 40-year-old people and I was the only African American who worked there.”
Despite facing substantial animosity from his white coworkers as both the youngest, and the only African American at the Dayton location, Mason went on to forge a fruitful and lengthy relationship with Lamar Advertising, so much so the company later supported him when he started his own commercial sign company and immediately contracted with him when he eventually left Lamar to run it.
After splitting time, for years, between his own Dayton-based company and a successful daycare venture in Indianapolis with his wife, Mason experienced a glimmer of something different. One evening, he decided to paint a portrait of his eighteen-month-old daughter. His wife, who had never seen him do fine art, told him it was what he should be doing. Three years later, after their daughter nearly drowned near their Indianapolis home while he was in Dayton, Mason saw the light and permanently relocated to Indianapolis. There, he started a youth organization teaching art, computer graphics, and finance to kids for free, sold his successful businesses, and set up a studio to paint.
“I was in my forties before I even started practicing fine art,” acknowledges Mason, explaining that one of the first people he contacted was Simmie Knox, the first African American artist to be commissioned for a presidential portrait. Knox, who also had a billboard background, began mentoring Mason over the phone. “I talked to Knox, Mario Robinson, and a few others, and I practiced for about two years before I even showed my work given I had the luxury to do so from selling those businesses.”
“He came to consult with me about leaving his good paying job to see if he could develop his craft to the point where he could actually be a fulltime artist,” recalls Davis, stressing “that was a big commitment. We talked about it on and off, he made that commitment and then made it work, and I was really proud of him. He left the city of Dayton and moved to Indianapolis where he really put the time in,” continues Davis, depicting how Mason “focused on his craft, reading, researching, and practicing, practicing, practicing until he developed a wonderful touch.”
In 2007, after recognizing the popularity of landscape art, honing his style, and researching relevant galleries, Mason met prominent African American gallerists Walter and Cathy Shannon from E&S Gallery in Louisville, Kentucky. His career in fine art would begin with a bang. “When I brought them my paintings, they literally purchased everything that I had,” reports Mason, noting his artwork began selling faster than he could paint it. Ongoing clients have since included such prominent collectors as Steve and Johnelle Smith of the investment-based Monument Circle Group, and retired NFL standout, Will Allen. “From there on, they have literally sold everything I ever brought them to this day.”
Others took notice as well. In an article in the International Review of African American Art entitled “What Lies Beyond the Human and the Made: Mason Archie and the Beautiful Landscape,” art historian John Welch wrote, “Viewing his work provides an opportunity to ponder the meaning of beauty in human consciousness and life as well as in the art itself.” Further considering Mason’s Evening on White River, Welch depicted how the viewer’s eye “lingers on sprouts of wild grass, craggy rock and rippling pool in the foreground, with the eye then drawn to a spectacle of brilliant light emblazoning a majestic tree, then moving out across glassine waters and a river bend to softly colored Romantic atmosphere.”
Such a “brilliant light” could also be used to describe Mason’s successful career in art. Along with national exhibits and the ongoing display of his works in galleries and private corporate collections, Mason partnered for his inaugural fine art exhibit with mentor and art legend, Simmie Knox; was awarded a Creative Renewal Arts Fellowship by The Arts Council of Indianapolis and the Lilly Endowment; was chosen to contribute a piece of art to the Eskenazi Health facilities for a 2014 collection designed to support the environment of health and healing; has traveled the country painting Underground Railroad historic sites; and has worked with master printmakers Curlee Raven Holton and Jase Clark to produce etchings and serigraphs for the Experimental Printmaking Institute on the Lafayette College campus in Easton, Pennsylvania.
Still, despite such career recognition and success, Mason ultimately reverts to his primary artistic purpose by clarifying how he strives for others to see the light through his unique, aesthetic lens.
“A photograph is not going to fully capture the mood, nor will it capture distance properly because a photo is going to make the distance a hard line,” explains Mason, stressing the distinct visual capacities of art by the human hand. However, with distance in nature and its associated light, “your eyes see it fading away softly, so you have to keep those things in mind.”
“My goal is to make sure that the viewer is experiencing what I saw, whatever type of light or whatever is going on, be it moonlight, fall, or rain,” promotes Mason. “I want him to experience what I saw so that he can see, whatever type of day it was, how it affects the scene I was viewing at the time.”
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AMARI JACKSON is a creator, author, TV/web/film producer, and award-winning journalist. He is author of the 2011 novel, The Savion Sequence; creator/writer/coproducer of the 2012-2014 web series The Book Look; writer/coproducer of the 2016 film Edge of the Pier; and current writer/coproducer of Listen Up! on HBCU GO/Roku TV. He is a former Chief of Staff for a NJ State Senator; a former VP of Communications & Development for the Jamestown Project at Harvard University; and a recipient of several writing fellowships including the George Washington Williams Fellowship from the Independent Press Association. An active ghost writer, song writer, martial artist, and journalist, his writings have appeared in a wide variety of national and regional publications.
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