Paul William Mason, sculptor: born Bolton, Lancashire 23 June 1952; Professor of Sculpture, Derby University 2004-06; married first Susan Disley (one son; marriage dissolved), second Emma Talbot (two sons); died London 9 May 2006.
In a generation of distinguished British sculptors, following on in the tradition of Henry Moore, Paul Mason stood out for his continuing adherence to the traditions of stone carving in a manner that Moore would certainly have approved of, not only with regard to form, but also meaning and context.
Mason, born in Bolton, Lancashire, in 1952, studied under a number of Royal Academicians; John "Paddy" Paddison at Wolverhampton Polytechnic and Willi Soukop in the Academy Schools themselves stand out.
An early break in his career came with a commission from Sir Freddie Gibberd - Hinge (1977) was a 5ft piece in red sandstone, to be sited outdoors in Harlow New Town, where Mason first found himself in the company of major post-war figures in the medium, and this founded a line of enquiry on which much of his reputation is based. Public commissions in Leeds, Nottingham, Southampton, Edinburgh, and, most notably, in 1985, for Centenary Square in Sheffield, followed; the last was a complete scheme in which Mason was lead artist, a pattern of working which has been copied widely in such projects across the UK.
In 1985, Mason undertook "The Cutting Edge", a major solo exhibition of sculpture and associated drawings - a second strand of activity that formed an important part of his output - that toured from his home town to Wolverhampton and Lincoln. In 1996, during a residency at the Tate St Ives, he was awarded a singular accolade: he was invited to utilise Barbara Hepworth's studio and carve a piece of stone from it that formed a centrepiece in an exhibition, "Paul Mason: new sculpture for Tate St Ives".
More recently, in 2000-01, he undertook a year-long residency in Gloucester Cathedral and the carvings that resulted were extremely sensitive responses to the spirituality of the surroundings. At around the same time he exhibited drawings in the Bauhaus Archiv in Berlin in and in some of these works, amongst his most experimental, can be found new ideas and approaches to his thinking about form and structure.
His last exhibition, "Stone Landscapes - a geometry of fracture" was in May 2005 at Quay Arts, in Newport, Isle of Wight. In his own notes, Mason said:
My works attempt to recognise and emulate the natural forces inherent in both carving and the geology. There is something deeply attractive and satisfying about the sculptural processes on both scales, and the dialogue between them that occurs quite naturally within the fragment and the whole.
Mason continued to produce significant outdoor works in both traditional settings, at Seaham Promenade in Co Durham for example, in 1998, as well as smaller-scale and more intimate works, such as the series of carvings for the River Yar on the Isle of Wight in 2001. In all these projects he focused on simple, natural forms, investing them with fresh insights and configurations. Throughout his career, his abiding passions for stone, landscape and history informed all his works and, as Professor Peter Wheeler remarked in his catalogue introduction to the exhibition "Root and Cause" (2002), the outcome of his Gloucester residency,
for Mason, his sculpture is the product of natural intentionality, that is not opposed to human intentionality, it does not contradict nature's formativity, but rather extends it.
A generous artist and an inspirational teacher, he taught at the art schools in Loughborough, Staffordshire, Northumbria and Derby, working in and more recently running departments in which innovation went hand in hand with an understanding of tradition and history. In recognition of his contribution, he was awarded the title of Professor of Sculpture at Derby University in 2004.
Both as artist and teacher, Paul Mason demonstrated an unswerving respect for the primacy of the creative act and, in many of his projects he encouraged and supported others to invest their creativity with a similar passion. This manifested itself in workshops with the visually handicapped as well as working with schoolchildren on associated activities related to his public art projects for which there are lasting legacies throughout the UK.
He is survived by his wife, Emma Talbot, herself a distinguished painter, and two young sons Zachary and Daniel, and by his son, Joseph, from his earlier marriage to the ceramicist Susan Disley.
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