To weave realities

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Jeff Mason, Cate in the Studio

Eugene coffee shop walls are a crap shoot in terms of art. Will I be forced to look at ugly, decorative pieces hung to match the furniture? Will my table be surrounded by a great variety of works with little unity and iffy quality?

Not often does a painting instantly catch my eye, but Jeff Mason is a rare bird on Eugene’s art scene. Two steps into the Whiteaker Neighborhood’s Wandering Goat Coffee Company, I was captivated. After standing in front of “Cate in the Studio” for a few minutes (which was awkward because a girl was sitting at the table right under it), I strolled around and soaked in the rest of the pieces. Mason’s Fall Collection 2011 show is a mix of impeccably painted landscapes, portraits and still lifes.

Mason’s bio, posted near the door, confirmed my suspicions- he’s a classically trained painter. He went to the Art Student’s League of New York in Manhattan and got a BFA from the UO.

That’s when my friend Meagan, a Whiteaker resident and Goat regular, pointed out another dimension of “Cate in the Studio.” It turns out that the images on the walls behind Cate are also scattered throughout the Goat.

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Jeff Mason, Study of a Skull (Do you see the same skull in a different painting on Cate’s wall?)

The room was suddenly tied together, as though Cate’s reality and our own had merged. Was Jeff Mason perched somewhere out of sight, painting a picture of us with Cate hanging on the wall? Where did the frames end and reality begin? I had to meet this man called Mason.

About a week later, Mason and I sat down at the table in front of “Cate” and discussed a dizzying number of things, one of which was his art. He’s a reedy man with inquisitive eyes and a rapid-fire mouth. He’s playfully defiant most of the time, deadly serious some of the time and constantly shifting in mood otherwise.

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Jeff Mason, Twilight

His style? For some paintings, impressionistic, or maybe en plein air. Or perhaps his style is entirely undefinable.

His painting habits? Varied. Sometimes he paints in great bursts- “Cate” was produced in three days- and sometimes it takes much longer.

His muse? His girlfriend, Cate. Or sunny weather. His love of light is certainly evident in some of his more masterful landscapes, such as “Twilight”, which is euphoric in its perfect blend of dusky colors.

His favorite painter? Van Gogh, whose collection of letters he treasures.

His subject matter? He often has little choice in what he paints. A building or scene will compel him to paint it. “Mill at Night,” which can be seen to the left of “Cate” in the photo, shows the famous factory that towers above Whiteaker. It’s the only architecture he considers interesting in town, so he painted it.

His reason for painting? He’s in it principally to make money. Or so he says. Looking at these paintings, I couldn’t believe that dough was his creative fuel. Mason will say something, but then give you the slightest of glances- something far more subtle than a wink- as though he’s hinting at a bigger joke or darker truth.

“I want to show people the beauty in something,” he said at one point.

“The beauty in what?” I asked.

“It’s too hard to explain,” he said. “It’s a dialogue between me and me.”

Perhaps Mason’s philosophy can best be described by the fact that he never writes artists’ statements. He has thoughts on many things, but he likes to let the art speak for itself.

BONUS!! – Jeff answers another question on the Talkback page!

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