“I became an artist because I didn’t want to do bar work during my university holidays,” Georgie Mason tells me from her father’s home in Suffolk where she is currently isolating. We talk over Google Hangouts and I am surprised by her matter of fact tone as she recounts the moments leading up to becoming what she describes as an “intuitive abstract painter”. To date she has exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, the Affordable Art Fair and the Museum of Goa in India, but despite her success, she doesn’t romanticise her reality for the sake of a glossy narrative. “Actually, I became an artist because I couldn’t do bar work. I dropped everything. It was a disaster.”
I interview Mason on the day the UK government’s isolation measures are formally relaxed after two months of sunshine and seclusion. If you were under the misconception that an isolated lifestyle fuelled creativity, Mason will set you straight. “It has taken years to build the daily routine and structure I need to be an artist,” she tells me within the first minute of our conversation. “Lockdown has completely uprooted that for me. Suddenly I have very little income, not enough space to paint large canvases, and my solo show, which I do every two years and is my main source of income, has been cancelled.” (Since we spoke, the exhibition has been rescheduled to the last weekend of August.)
For those who look at abstract art and say “I could do that”, Mason’s story is a reminder of the effort, skill and determination behind a seemingly effortless piece of work. “There is so much invisible work that I have to do in order to be able to create,” she explains to me. Making connections in the art world, contacting galleries, maintaining a website, wrapping and delivering finished works, sourcing materials, managing her social media accounts, the list seems endless not to mention maintaining levels of creativity high enough to actually produce artwork.
Over the past few years, which she admits have been challenging, Mason has learned to master the workload. She has experimented with self exhibiting (avoiding the 50% cut by galleries) and adjusted her schedule to include weekend work while giving herself universally dreaded Monday mornings off.
There isn’t a scrap of romanticism in Mason’s freelance fairytale.
As I speak with Mason, it becomes clear that she is an artist who understands the balance required to sustain both her artistic output as well as her lifestyle. It seems full time painting started as a transactional process based on something she loved, rather than a desperate need to create modern day masterpieces. After failing to get a bar job, she hired a gallery space with a friend to try and make money. During this period it was tea breaks with “other solitary artists” around her studio in Hackney Wick which sustained her. There isn’t a scrap of romanticism in this freelance fairytale.
“The business comes first, then the art,” Mason says plainly. “When people say to me it was a brave decision to become a painter, I tell them the decision was a natural one. It’s sticking with it over so many years that is brave.” This isn’t an exaggeration. Mason has been on the brink of quitting several times but something always “pulled me back from the brink”.
Perhaps the underlying reason for this is that people really like Mason’s work, myself included. A few years ago, I wanted to have a painting commissioned by a local artist and found Mason through a mutual friend. In my living room now hangs a large, mixed media oil painting, based on the rough constructs of a landscape. It is energetic and subtle and captures the blended qualities between land and sky. At my request she incorporated words from a poem written by a friend, scratching them into the painted surface. The entire process felt collaborative but also surprising seeing how Mason interpreted my initial idea in the finished piece. The physicality of the canvas is, in my opinion, quite startling.
This physicality is not coincidental. While painting, Mason often plays music and dances to channel her inspiration through physical movement and stimulation. She is a gifted singer and writer, having studied English Literature at Nottingham University, and brings a cross reference of different creative practices to her work. She says that keeping fit and doing yoga most mornings keeps her inspired.
“Inspiration is an amalgamation of every experience I’ve ever had”
“You need both types of inspiration in order to create,” she tells me about her creative process. “You need the content up in your head from what you’ve seen or from memories or your imagination. But you also need your body to be on board to turn it into a painting because otherwise it just sits in your head. You have to have the actual motivation to express. I dance in the studio and then I’ll stand back and flick paint or use my fingers. I get really involved. Inspiration is an amalgamation of every experience I’ve ever had.”
Her resulting body of work produced through this process resides mainly on large canvases (“they’re so freeing, you can dump things and memories on them”), but also on more unusual surfaces such as slates discovered at a refuge yard. A particular favourite of mine from this series is entitled, ‘The First Sip of Tea”. As a fellow tea enthusiast, Mason captures that delicious first taste through a dipped effect, leaving golden traces on the rough stones. The simplicity of the concept feels intentional and allows the viewer a moment of mindfulness.
In a city rife with anxiety and stress, creating a company to combat this is the move of a perspicacious business woman, as well as a creative force.
Mindfulness and general well being are elements which Mason links inexplicably with the creation of art. Last year, charged with a natural entrepreneurial spirit and her own battles with mental health, she co founded MasterPeace with Zena El Farra to provide Londoners with mindful art experiences and classes. In a city rife with anxiety and stress, creating a company to combat this is the move of a perspicacious business woman, as well as a creative force.
As well as MasterPeace, Mason teaches workshops from her own studio at Stepney City Farm, “I love it there, you can go and see the donkeys at lunchtime”. The classes aim to teach students the art of losing yourself in the moment. Mason tells me she gets “so much energy from teaching, it’s always the highlight of my week” as well as ideas for her own work. It is also an example of how she has thoughtfully diversified her income streams to secure her future.
“Lockdown has allowed me to refocus on what I really want to do next,” Mason tells me as we come to the end of our conversation. She is planning on embarking upon a three year part time MA in Art Therapy and purposefully picked an analytical course linking her love of verbal expression with the visual. This, she enthuses, will help her retain her much needed structure, studying for three days a week and painting for the rest. The decision seems both instinctive as well as shrewd, much like her journey to becoming an artist in the first place.
“The life of an artist is not for everyone and it’s actually not for me,” she observes casually. Even still, it’s probably a good thing she didn’t get the bar job in the end.