From plein air to comics, LCAD Grad Mason Williams steps into spotlight

Mason Williams is a Laguna Beach resident and alumnus of Laguna College of Art + Design. Photo courtesy of Mason Williams.

By Tasmin McGill, Special to the Independent

Landscape and Plein air painter Mason Williams, 27, is ready for the next chapter. While house-sitting for his mentor Jesse Powell, Williams speaks about this introduction to art, how his apprenticeships helped develop his art style and where he sees himself next.

On July 29, Williams led a comic book art workshop at the Laguna Art Museum. Deciding to lead the workshop on comics instead of landscape painting was a purposeful decision.

“My first artistic interest came from comic books and cartoons. I could teach a class on how to draw a landscape painting, but I wanted something that was easy and accessible for everybody,” Williams said. “I’m not the biggest comic book nerd or anything, but I do feel like it’s a storytelling medium and a type of art in itself that’s been a huge influence on my early career. It’s a way for anyone who comes to engage with their imagination and storytelling.”

Born and raised in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif., Williams has been surrounded by rich pieces of art and talented artists his entire life. He comes from an artistic family with two grandparents who are artists and his great-great-grandfather painting with Thomas Moran in the Grand Canyon.

Williams was also inspired by his older brother’s talent for drawing when they were boys.

“I always looked up to him. Whatever I did when I was growing up, I remember he was drawing Tony Hawk one day. Wow, that’s cool. I gotta do that,” Williams said.

After graduating high school, Williams went off to The Principia, a Liberal Arts college in Illinois where his parents met. Although he had an interest in art, the extent of his artistic skills were “doodles.” Williams originally intended to major in chemistry but by his junior year he officially landed on becoming art major.

Following his college graduation, he worked at Apple’s corporate office as an image analyst. Realizing he didn’t like the job, Williams quit to officially pursue painting full-time. He went on a fateful three-week residence at Otis College for Art and Design in 2018.

“That thing changed my life because I met my now fiance Kelley,” Williams said.

During the Otis College residency, Williams met fellow artist and future wife Kelley Mogilka as well as Peter Zokosky, chair of Masters of Fine Arts Drawing and Painting at Laguna College of Art + Design. Both he and Mogilka were given a tour of the college.

“We knew that we wanted to go to grad school at some point. And I think the pandemic presented a perfect opportunity,” Williams said.

The couple moved to Dana Point in 2020 and studied online for the first year of their master’s program and now call Laguna Beach home after moving earlier this year.

While taking classes at The Principia, Williams’ art centered around surrealist desert landscapes that incorporated intense saturated colors. However, following his residency, Williams worked as a Studio Manager at Carmel Visual Arts where he eventually met his mentor and landscape artist Powell who introduced him to his other mentor John Burton.

Williams worked at Carmel Visual Arts for less than a year before leaving to apprentice for Burton. While the duo worked together, Williams completed 36 Plein air paintings a week for a year.

“Basically every time that you attempt to make a painting, there’s a chance that you’ll fail. With every failure, there’s an opportunity for growth and learning. I say I painted 36 paintings in a week, but it was more like 36 failures in a week,” Williams said.

Williams was acknowledged along with Mogilka by Southwest Art Magazine for their 2021 issue showcasing 21 artists under 31. Williams looks at this recognition as “affirmation” that he’s on the right track.

“When I got the email that they wanted to feature me and Kelley, I was just over the moon. I was so excited,” Williams said.

Williams wants anyone viewing his work to see the beauty of everyday life in his work. His next opportunity to showcase his work is at the “Small Works, Great Wonders” exhibition in November at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

“It’s kind of like this runner-up show to one of the biggest and best exhibitions in the country, in my opinion– The Prix de West,” Williams said. “That’s the kind of work that I’m really drawn to. It’s just incredible, the paintings there are so moving and the artists are at the top of their game.”

Artists come to the Museum to display their best Western ranches, a variety of Western landscape motifs and cowboys. Considering entry to the Prix de West is Williams’ goal, he looks forward to showing his work and networking with leading artists at “Small Works, Great Wonders”.

“Some of the artists that do show in the Prix de West are also going to be in the “Small Works” show, so I’ll be side by side with some of my art heroes,” Williams said.

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