In Autumn

Reflections on art, the season and the soul

Juliette Harris

Autumn's raging beauty, piercing chill and fading light stir feelings in us all.  Landscapist Mason Archie is particularly responsive to the autumn weather and the viewer’s imagination easily travels into his scenes of this season.

Come walk down a country road with the woman in Archie's Autumn # 4 painting. 

Autumn #4, oil on linen canvas, 18 x 24”The day is starting to clear from a morning rain. Puddles in the road reflect skeleton outlines of the first trees to go naked. 

Yes, it’s a bit melancholy, this lone walk by a field of cornflower yellow. It’s an existential melancholy that reminds her of her own mortality and the inevitable end of all she loves….

I CRIED over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.

 The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper sunburned woman, the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.

The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes, new beautiful things come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, and the old things go, not one lasts.

— "Autumn Movement" by Carl Sandburg

A melancholy mellowed by knowing that a bright kitchen, whistling teapot and hugs await at her destination.  

Autumn, oil on linen canvas, 30 x 30”

Mason Archie's work is reminiscent of that of 19th century master painters Robert Duncanson, Edward Bannister and the Hudson River School but his technique also blends impressionism with traditional landscape painting and sometimes includes human figures.

Mason Archie autumn country is Indiana. The Indianapolis-based artist does not have a formal art education which makes his mastery of landscape art all the more impressive.   

A Quiet Place, oil on linen, William C. Robinson Family CollectionWhen he was 16, Archie began working for Lamar Outdoor Advertising and learned to paint huge billboards for national corporations.  By the time he was 21, he was the firm’s art director.  After working for Lamar for 15 years, he opened his own advertising company.  He eventually sold that business so he could devote full attention to his art.  His self-study included reading Frank Mayer’s The Artist Handbook and a host of old master painting technique books and of course lots of practice.

Since 2005 Archie has been studying and working with master portrait artist, Simmie Knox. They work on materials, technique and color.

The colors of Archie’s palette tend to be autumn-toned even when the subject of the painting is not.

The name — of it — is "Autumn" —

The hue — of it — is Blood —

An Artery — upon the Hill —

A Vein — along the Road —

— first stanza of “The name — of it — is Autumn" by Emily Dickinson

Calm After the Storm, oil on linen canvas, 24 x 30”Mason Archie appreciates the visual character of each season but he says that “autumn stands out for its quiet serenity and colorful harvest explosion.”

One autumn afternoon after a heavy storm, the woman sets out in a different direction. The day is overcast. Wet russet. This time she's not headed to the friends' kitchen and her mood is shaded all somber by the day. But it’s okay. Somber is a quiet, soul-deep place — a good place for other emotion to come to rest.

As she approaches the lake, a shard of sun breaks through, making way for the full orb to float upon the water.  She walks out onto the landing, sits on the edge, a witness to nature’s unfailing metaphor of assurance: light out of darkness.

No Autumn's intercepting Chill

Appalls this Tropic Breast --

But African Exuberance

And Asiatic rest.

— "No Autumn's intercepting Chill" by Emily Dickinson

Although he's inspired by the season, Mason Archie says its delineation does not come easy: “Painting such a colorful scene with the right atmosphere makes autumn the most challenging season to paint, but very rewarding when I achieve what I envision.”

Calm Breeze, oil on linen canvas, 24 x 30”It’s early November when she returns to the old wooden landing on the lake. Grasses drab, russets browning, late afternoon sky streaked with blue and golddecay streaked with gladness. Again she sits on the edge of the landing. Dead branches in the water, a familiar lakescape trope? Or a metaphor of what?  Death. Winter coming. And the rightness of it all.

Mason ArchieArchie believes he still has "so much further to go” in his artistic development.  “I may sometimes capture what I see but the struggle is capturing what I feel.”

A successful struggle.  We look at these autumn paintings and feel. Whether it’s what the artist feels or what we feel independently of the artist is beside the point. Our feelings become enjoined through the making and the viewing.

And these few precious days, I’ll spend with you…


Related IRAAA+ article: What Lies Beyond the Human and the Made, Mason Archie and the Beautiful Landscape 

The ending phrase in this article of course is from “September Song” by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Maxwell Anderson.