The paintings of Kiata Mason form an ongoing meditation on objecthood; on the formative bonds between materiality and memory. Capturing quiet domestic scenes in her family home, the Mid North Coast-based artist considers the ways in which objects collected over generations tether us to personal, cultural and imagined histories.
Mason’s still lifes function as physical constellations of memory, materialised within intimate, lived-in spaces. Her new series, ‘The Artist’s Table’, revolves around ideas of empathy and acceptance originally researched during her Masters degree. Several years ago, Mason returned to her family home to care for her grandmother, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease. Surrounded by familial objects and the memories embedded within them, she began creating paintings that documented and celebrated her family history. ‘The work is about bringing together different personalities and ways of thinking, and having an acceptance of all – a feeling of inclusion, and of respecting the different ages’, reflects the artist. Crockery, mementos and miscellanea function as tangible surrogates for people and places from the past; relics of fading moments refusing to be forgotten. Objects are rendered with tender, empathetic brushwork, each invested with equal value – whether a single button or a wardrobe swelling with a lifetime of clothing. The paintings reveal the symbolic importance of ‘not discarding things just because they are old, but rejoicing in the history shared, and learning from that history.’
Unlike the tight compositional choreography of traditional still lifes, Mason’s haphazard displays and unconventional cropping provide honest apertures of domesticity. Exotic shells are sprawled on a table beside a pack of playing cards, melted candles and an embellished elephant figurine, giving us glimpses into family holidays and dinners, interests, conversations and actions. We conjure narratives for each object, imbuing them with our own experiences and affiliations.
In these paintings, the artist places visual emphasis on pattern by incorporating textiles from the sewing drawers in her home. She shifts her focus, slightly, away from pure objecthood to consider the patterns beneath the objects – handstitched tablecloths, retro fabrics, patchwork quilts. In this way, the patterns gain as much mnemonic currency as the objects, referencing cultural eras and personal tastes. They also point towards old and new notions of femininity, bolstered by items such as native orchids, dresses, vases and earrings, which become material proxies for the artist, her grandmother and all the women who have passed through this private space.
Pace slows down in these works as Mason memorialises time lived and time lost. Conflating foreground and background, she symbolically negates the notion of temporal distance, suggesting that everything exists in the here and now. Objects from the past are still present, memories still alive and family members still loved.
Mason’s paintings speak softly of the emotional pull that can be experienced in a room full of the remnants of a long, shared life. Dispersed, the objects could be seen as bric-a-brac, but united they tell intimate stories of the people and places attached to them. Though the artist celebrates materiality as a mediator of memory, there is also the liberating sense that we are merely custodians of objects. We cannot truly own anything, and as we pass through life – layering objects with our own narratives – ultimately our memories live within us, and us alone.