Meet the artists: Ben Mason and Christina Leigh

This is the first in a series of visits with new artists on the Rappahannock Association for the Arts and the Community’s (RAAC) tenth annual Artists of Rappahannock Studio & Gallery Tour this Nov. 1-2.

The Castleton property of artists Ben Mason and fiancee Christina Leigh is an art piece in itself and well worth a visit during the Rappahannock Association for the Arts and the Community’s 10th annual Studio and Gallery Tour held Nov. 1-2.

Mixed-media artists Ben Mason (right) works on a piece about a dog bite he received as a paperboy, while Christina Leigh looks on.Megan S. Smith
Mixed-media artists Ben Mason (right) works on a piece about a dog bite he received as a paperboy, while Christina Leigh looks on.

Deemed part of a former native American village site — circa 1,000 B.C. — their property incorporates much of the beauty local residents seek in the county, both in its feeling of serenity and use of local resources.

The two accomplished artists met roughly eight years ago and frequently work side by side in their studio. Leigh points out, “we reinforce and give feedback on [each other’s] projects,” even though their work is quite different.

“Ben is really explosive . . . spontaneous and furious” when he begins a piece, Leigh explains; it’s as if he’s on “a rabbit hunt.” As for Leigh, “I’ve been known to work on a piece for years.”

Raised in Annandale, Va., Mason moved to Rappahannock to raise his children and renovated his Castleton home, building many sculptures around the property using colorful, local stones. He’s a stone mason of sorts, he points out, living up to his family name.

Noting his boyish looks, you wouldn’t guess that Mason has been around a few years, and, as a musician since age 13, has opened up for popular acts playing the likes of the now-defunct Cellar Door and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

While Mason still records and performs music, he also creates paintings and mixed-media pieces, many influenced by the philosophy of Aboriginal tribal art. He strives to “reinforce opposites” using objects that remind him of “people in his life,” such as his late father, also an artist. Utilizing “things that matter to me, I put them together to support the whole . . . Hidden realms that I can bring people into.”

While some of his work is accidental, Mason said, other pieces have mysterious, concealed images. One of his mixed-media works is a flashback to a dog bite he received as a paperboy, incorporating images of dogs, their body parts and scraps of newspaper receipts.

Born in Bethesda, Md., Leigh was also raised in a family of artists: Her father was a thespian, her mother a sculptor and her brother a musician. Leigh received a B.F.A in New York City at the School of Visual Arts, then a Masters in teaching, which she practices currently at a middle school.

In between education and educating, Leigh created illustrations for The New Yorker magazine, taught photography classes and traveled extensively throughout Europe — including in rural Germany.

In her thoughtful pieces, Leigh investigates “how . . . light works,” she says, for “without it, there would be no work.” While she is “mostly interested in light versus color,” she explores both in her mixed-media art on canvas.

Leigh, like Mason, has also encountered surprises as she creates, such as her “photo accidents,” which turned into a series of oil pastel paintings of what people “look like when they’re really emoting something.”

Indeed, these double-exposure works are enticing yet haunting. The toughest part of this work is not the accident, she contends, but trying to “replicate the accident.”

Some older works she is revisiting include two large paintings using oil pastel, charcoal, gauze and actual gold leaf (when it was still affordable), one piece depicting a “mitochondrial African Eve,” she explains.

Both Leigh and Mason wish to explore in the future “encaustic sculpture,” using pigments mixed with hot wax used as an inlay.

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