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There's nothing quite like nude portraiture to start your morning off right. Students and faculty wandering to lecture this week got their full dose in "What I Found in the Desert," a solo exhibition by Maya Diablo Mason '15, on display Oct. 19-26 in the First Floor Gallery of the List Art Center.
The collection includes a series of striking, intimate paintings of the human form, in addition to seven stainless steel and bronze sculptures. Working in both two- and three-dimensional space, the artist creates a panoramic environment of color and energy, uniting two media that at first glance seem disconnected.
Many of the paintings feature a spiraling, polychromatic background, echoes of which can be found in the sculptural silhouettes. According to an artist statement by Mason posted in the gallery, despite differences in subject and dimensionality, "the objective is the same: to examine the world through my own weird eyes."
Mason, a double concentrator in visual art and English, won the chance to use the gallery in a lottery held by the visual art department last spring.
 "There are three student galleries in List, and the space is assigned to students in week-long slots a semester in advance," said Sheila Haggarty, department manager for the visual art department. In an effort to give students "some professional experience," the faculty imposes few curatorial restrictions on student exhibits other than a few basic guidelines, she said.
The sculptures were funded in part by a Charles Royce '62 Fellowship, which provides up to 20 students each year with a grant "to explore their developing interests and passions and to extend the ideals of Brown's open curriculum beyond the walls of the university," according to the University website. Mason used her grant to experiment with metalwork at the Crucible, a sculpture facility in Oakland, Calif., according to the artist statement.
All the sculptures were created in the span of a month, and this strong sense of time and place is implied by the inclusion of local flora and fauna, with abstract forms welded together fluidly.
The studio location informed the work in other ways as well, Mason said. "West Oakland's not actually a place with a highly developed cultural center, because there are so many problems with poverty and education," she said. "When I used the word 'desert,' it was to refer to the lack of a real fine arts presence."
The pieces lend themselves well to the idea of generating something from nothing. Titles like "Mrs. God," for a powerful female nude, and "The Birth of a New God," for a contorted sculpture, reinforce this sense of cosmic energy.
"It's kind of a proclamation that I'm the creator," Mason said.
In "Lothario," an androgynous-looking figure sits cross-legged in a psychedelic web of color, smooth, elegant legs juxtaposed with broad shoulders and heavy hands. The amalgamation of body parts provides a subtle dialogue between the masculine and the feminine throughout the exhibit.
"It's fun to play with the differences and similarities between the genders in the brushwork and colors," Mason said, acknowledging the influence of Jenny Saville, a painter known for her large-scale, sexually ambiguous nudes. "I invented this character that's partly my family members and partly my imagination."
The paintings also treat the viewer to a host of chromatic surprises - a breast painted blue, yellow armpits, a green nose. This playful color palette was informed in part by a vision problem Mason has had since childhood, she said.
"When I look at anything, there's this kind of veil of translucent colors that vibrates over the surface. In my work I really exacerbate that to show what it's like to see through my eyes," she said.
The synthesis of highly personal interpretations with an improvised flair for the fantastic makes for a highly original body of work. The gallery space may be accessible to the passerby, but this collection of thoughtful, engaging art invites the viewer to linger for perhaps quite a bit longer.


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