First exhibit at Point Park gallery impressive


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Lunchtime strollers and anyone with a reason to be Downtown have a new destination to add to their cultural rounds. Point Park University has launched a gallery space with an inaugural exhibition that introduces an artist whose reputation is set to soar.

Frank Herbert Mason (1921-2009), a highly regarded realist painter, is equally admired as an educator who taught for 57 years at the Art Students League, New York.

While well known in select international circles, Mr. Mason's work will reach a wider audience through a new documentary being shopped to film festivals, and a book highlighting his command of the figure, "Gloria in Excelsis Deo: Frank Mason's Life of Christ," which was released last year by Chameleon Books.

The 16 paintings exhibited include landscapes, still lifes, genre scenes, portraits and religious subjects.

"Little Italy" depicts the interior of the New York bar he lived above with warmth, gusto and authenticity, while "Art Students," set in his studio, reflects Mr. Mason's classical training.

Landscapes, many painted at his summer home in Vermont where he also taught, are fluid, with occasional impressionistic flourishes that approach brushwork showmanship.

The masterful portrait "St. John the Divine" is partly in shadow, a caress of light illuminating the top of the head and nape of neck, backlighting a rugged beard. The saint looks neither inward nor outward, but elsewhere, into mystery.

Most compelling is Mr. Mason's 2006 disarmingly honest "Self-Portrait in Red Shirt," both buttressed and tempered by experience.

Mr. Mason's mother was a violinist and pianist, his father a Shakespearean actor, and both painted. His family moved from Cleveland in 1932 to New York, where Mr. Mason was among the youths selected by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia for the new Music and Arts High School.

At age 16 he received a scholarship to attend the Art Students League. When instructor and mentor Frank Vincent Dumond died in 1951, Mr. Mason replaced him, carrying on his classicist legacy and becoming revered as a teacher.

For the catalog of a 1993 retrospective exhibition, Art Times editor Raymond Steiner wrote that Mr. Mason, as had his mentor, "interlaces his instruction with not only bits and pieces of anecdotes about artists, art restoration, criticism, history and lore, but about music, opera, history, psychology and philosophy as well."

He was also known as a feisty champion of historic paintings, leading a charge against what he considered overzealous conservators at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1976. Mr. Mason was publicly critical of what he considered destruction done to Michelangelo's "Sistine Chapel" frescos by cleaners who removed shadows, modeling and the illusion of depth, which the master had painstakingly created.

The exhibited paintings, which are for sale, range in year from 1960 to 2006 and in price from $7,500 to $45,000.

The exhibition was organized by John Tomayko, a Point Park board of trustees member and art collector who also donated the sculpture "Freedom Bound" by artist Paige Bradley. The almost life-sized bronze of two figures in graceful motion is permanently installed in the gallery, across from a studio of the dance school. Next month, the Mason show will be replaced by one featuring local artists from the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh.

"[The gallery] lends itself to a commitment as a part of the academic village initiative to look at our street-level spaces," said Mariann Geyer, vice president for university advancement. "Jack [Tomayko] has the knowledge and the art world contacts and we have the space."

The Mason exhibition continues through March 6. Lawrence Hall is at the corner of Wood Street and the Boulevard of the Allies. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Admission is free. Information: 412-392-8008.

Support arts coverage

As commercial media continues to reduce arts coverage, it's important to support vetted and knowledgeable sources that consistently provide respectful, broad arts reporting and programming.

Critics have claimed that PBS efforts were often duplicated by channels such as A&E. PG TV editor Rob Owen has pointed out that this argument lost credibility when those cable networks turned instead to reality programs.

Public radio is another friend of the arts, which are incorporated into news as well as special programs. Pittsburgh's National Public Radio affiliate, WDUQ-FM, up for sale by Duquesne University, is in the midst of a fundraiser to measure support for maintaining it as an independent NPR/jazz format station. Vote with your wallet at www.wduq.org or 412-396-2000.

Arts Fest poster contest

The Three Rivers Arts Festival is accepting submissions for its 2010 poster contest, due March 17. Details at www.artsfestival.net.

Bearden conference

A national symposium devoted to the late African-American artist Romare Bearden will be held March 26-27 at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, Downtown.

"Bearden in the Public Realm" presentations are free and public but space is limited. Information and registration at www.beardenfoundation.org or 212-665-9550.


Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925. First Published February 24, 2010 5:00 AM


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