Paul Mason has never thought of himself as an artist. It is a title he bestows less often than men are knighted and one that he shrugs off despite his work being held in the collections of both Te Papa and Auckland Museums.
Paul grew up in Hamilton and spent most Saturdays at work in his father’s engineering workshop learning how to lathe and mill machine parts.
Aged 13 he disconnected the water pump from the house and mounted it on the back of his wooden trolley. He’d figured out how to build a clutch and so by the time his parents returned home he was circuiting the house at thirty miles per hour.
His talents did not go unobserved by his art teachers who encouraged him to pursue a career in ‘graphic design’, at a time software was something you slept in, and Paul’s first job was with an advertising agency hand drawing Griffins biscuit packets, Masport lawn mowers and Crown Lynn crockery.
Marriage and kids and a move to Sydney saw him working as a theatre technician. He was encouraged by the surgeons to watch them operate but it was not the surgery itself that left him in awe, it was the tools the surgeons used.
Paul purchased his first lathe and began making tools that enabled him to work more precisely. Paul returned to NZ started making finely crafted jewellery and small boxes from found materials including bone, stone, feathers and wood.
In 1975 Paul took two bamboo steamer trays of small pieces into the Van Helden Gallery in Wellington. Upon seeing his work Leo Van Helden looked at Pal and said “ I’ve been waiting for you for 20 years”.
Paul’s first exhibition took place at Van Helden Gallery in 1976 and he has never looked back.
For more than forty years he has moved with grace and dexterity from one medium to the next. His works have ranged in scale from wearable art to large stone sculptures resulting in an exceptionally broad “oeuvre” but one that nestles up against the limits of precision and perfection in every direction.
There is however one form that Paul has become best known for is the crucible. Paul has made this in wood, ceramic, glass, bronze and more recently, cast iron.
A crucible is a traditionally a vessel in which elements are melted down leading to the creation of something new.
Paul has been melting down life’s dharma and dramas in these crucibles for more than 30 years, transmuting temporary trials and tribulations, flaws and frustrations into objects with enduring beauty and deeply satisfying form.
Making things is Paul’s meditation but it is us that his work enlightens.
Paul Mason’s work is available at:
Wallace Trust Arts Centre – Pah Estate
Piece Gallery – Matakana