Gallerist Mark Mason Karelson brings visual art and culture to Buckhead and Atlanta


Charly Palmer, Ali, acrylic on canvas, 48″ x 36″

Imagine a place of business where you are surrounded by scores of high-quality, contemporary works by regional, national and international artists who are continually evolving. For Mark Mason Karelson, he doesn’t have to imagine.

As director, curator and owner of eponymous Mason Fine Art and Events in Atlanta’s Design District, Karelson is in his element. As an artist himself, Karelson is in the business of helping others by showcasing the work of both well-established and emerging artists and facilitating their artistic development.

Chinemerem Omeh, Community of Human Meaning (Red Cloak of Mother’s Touch), ink and acrylic on canvas, 40″ x 56″

“I have met artists in places such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and also places like the side of the road on Moreland Avenue in Atlanta, and everywhere in between,” he says. “The secret is to be open and curious, and to not make judgments based on anything but the work itself.”

For Karelson, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, then spent 15 years working in banking and finance, art was a hobby that became an obsession and eventually a business.

Edward Kellogg, Ayla’s Lily Pond, oil on canvas, 60″ x 72″

“Mason Fine Art is about 10 years old, but I have had galleries for more than 30 years, beginning with Modern Primitive Gallery in Virginia Highlands, which is a neighborhood in Atlanta,” notes Karelson. “Mason Fine Art’s footprint is 9,000 square feet. We share the space with the Marcia Wood Gallery. There is terrific synergy between our galleries.”

Mason Fine Art caters to a wide variety of customers, including individual collectors, museums and corporations. Karelson says he follows his eye when choosing works for an exhibition. To that end, in his quest to seek out the best work, he makes it a point to connect with Atlanta’s vibrant community of artists and search the world for artists who appeal to the viewer on an emotional and intellectual level. “I want my clients to make a connection with the work they choose to live with,” he says.

Tracy Murrell, I Am One With Mother Earth and Father Sky, encaustic on rice paper, acrylic, resin, 48″ x 36″

A visit to Mason Fine Art’s website will help create an instant snapshot of just how varied Karelson’s love of art and artists is. There you’ll find an incredibly diverse group of curated artists, including Charly Palmer, Heather Hilton, David Kessler, P.H. Polk, Marquetta Johnson, Shie Moreno, Keiko Gonzalez, Anne Berry, Eric Buechel, David Eddy, Terry Turrell, Zac Smith, Paul Cadden, Phil Ralston, Ashley Surber and Michael Zigmond, among several others.

While their artistic styles may vary, these artists and several more have passed the Karelson test. “I look for something that speaks to me on an emotional level while displaying the skill and wisdom of the maker,” he explains. “My mission is to connect great art with people that recognize and appreciate it. I try to be a connector. We have a very sincere interest in the work we choose to exhibit, and we have a real desire to succeed for both the artist and for the gallery.”

Heather Hilton, Untitled #10, beach wood, 11″ x 17″ x 12″

With three decades under his belt, Karelson has had ample time to make connections, and he can confidently assess the measure of how the United States stacks up against the rest of the world when it comes to art.

“The United States is the largest market for art, followed by the United Kingdom and China,” he notes. “The U.S. is becoming more inclusive and, therefore, more interesting as time goes by. Women and artists of color are getting a more equal opportunity lately, which improves the overall quality of the market.”

Clearly, Karelson is proud of Mason Fine Art’s reputation as evidenced by his invitation to interior designers, collectors and the public at large. “Mason Fine Art welcomes private and corporate collectors, as well as professionals from the decorative arts community. The wide variety of high-quality works always available at Mason Fine Art is without compare in the Southeast,” he says. “We work directly with the public and also do a good bit of business with intermediaries such as interior designers and art consultants.”

Patrick Johnson, Hoisting the Night, acrylic on canvas, 48″ x 48″

In June 2023, Karelson opened Mason Fine Art’s sister gallery, the PATH Museum, on the ground floor of an office building in Buckhead. PATH, an acronym for “Presenting Art That Heals,” is a non-collecting museum. Karelson invites the world into PATH because he says art has the incredible power to heal, inspire and transform. “We are dedicated to bringing this healing magic to life through captivating exhibitions, engaging educational programming and cultural experiences,” he says.

Presently, the museum is exhibiting Touching Magic: Scenes from Enchanted Wilderness, a collection of lyrical photographs that capture the mystery and beauty of Georgia’s coastal wilderness.

In the past 10 years, Karelson has had plenty of wins and a few losses, which mostly coincided with the height of the pandemic in 2020 and early 2021, but for him positive thinking always wins the day. “COVID-19 made having a large space and a special events business challenging in many ways, but we survived and ultimately thrived,” he says.

Always the optimist, Karelson is quick to point out one big plus during the pandemic, saying, “On a positive note, I started several Instagram accounts, including one—@folkartoutsiderart—that has grown to more than 113,000 followers during that time.”

Keiko Gonzalez, El Demonio Rojo, oil on canvas, 52″ x 52″

For Mason Fine Art, word of mouth is the most important way to market. “A happy client is your best reference for a prospective client,” Karelson says. A case in point was a rather large purchase by Anne Cox Chambers, who was the co-owner of the media giant Cox Enterprises and a longtime resident of Atlanta before her death in 2020.

“One of my favorite moments was when Anne Cox Chambers decided to purchase The John Lewis Series by Benny Andrews. She then donated the collection to the new Museum of Civil and Human Rights here in Atlanta,” recalls Karelson.

Karelson employs about five people and says the success of his business is a team effort and an absolute labor of love. “I have an excellent team working with me, and I also benefit from the hard work of art advisors and other consultants,” he says.

Anne Berry, The Cormorant’s Message, archival ink on fiber paper, 20″ x 20″

One of the advantages for Karelson and his team is the variety that each day brings. “There is no such thing as a typical day, which is one of the things I love about the business,” he notes. “You never know what’s going to happen next in this business.”

Karelson does think, however, that Atlanta could open its arms wider to embrace art and its artists. “This market needs more local support and a commitment to boosting local artists and galleries,” he says. “Atlanta has great artists and some strong galleries.” The city, which is home to about 30 galleries and 686 artists, trails the United States’ largest market—New York City—by about 70 galleries.

Despite his appeal to the city to firmly embrace its artists, Karelson is a big supporter of Atlanta, which played major roles in both the Civil War and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. “There is so much history here, and we’re all very proud of this city,” he says. “It’s a wonderful place to call home.” *

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