How the Blue Wall Was Built
There have been some truly pivotal moments in L.A. art history. Some of the groundbreaking achievements were in ceramics, it’s often noted. The biggest move, to my mind, was when John Mason and Peter Voulkos rented a studio on the corner of Glendale Blvd. and Baxter Street in 1957. The first things they made were large-scale sculpture. They adapted industrial technology, and had a huge kiln built that could match their ambitions: “I could stand upright in [the kiln] and a number of friends could stand upright in it also,” Mason has recalled.
Mason’s first sculptures, made in that Glendale Blvd. studio, were vertical, closed forms, with a shape that resembled a spear. Then, over the next few years, he made several huge steps forward, moving into uncharted territory with the medium of fired clay. Mason began to make massive rough-hewn walls; he soon broke into a kind of totemic verticality. Eventually, he built huge cross forms and solid, mysterious geometric shapes.
He did this by developing innovative ways of working, including pushing clay onto a huge easel to make wall reliefs, and compacting the material around a wooden armature to make the vertical sculptures. By 1959 he would use just the weight, gravity and plasticity of the raw clay to build a major work, which will be shown in the main exhibit at the Getty, “Crosscurrents”: the Blue Wall.
“It wasn’t until I started to work on the floor that I began to just cut and slam clay down on the floor and then take pieces or parts of slabs and add them to make a more linear organic form. One of the first was the Blue Wall, which was over twenty feet long and eight or nine feet across,” Mason has recalled.