Monday, 9:48am
9 May 2011

A cigarette with Les Mason

Clem Devine’s personal memories of Epicurean’s fiery art director

First of all, smoking is bad, writes Clem Devine. Does that mean drinking is bad, or loving too much, or working too hard? Well, it depends. But yes, smoking is still bad,. This is a painting my Aunt Gail painted of her late husband, also my uncle, Les (Leroy) Mason after his first heart attack.

Top: Leroy, by Gail Devine (1995). Courtesy of the artist,

Gail hates smoking. But to me, in this painting, Les is, literally, smoking. Anyone that didn’t meet Les wouldn’t really know what I mean by smoking. Les was a force. He was on fire. You could feel a radiating interest in everything, art, design, politics. He was a polemicist, prone to exhilarating oratory, deeply funny or dryly melancholic. Sometimes he’d be scary.

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Both Les and Gail have been formative influences in my life, both professionally and personally. I spent school holidays with them at their fabulous homes in Perth. They opened up a whole new world I never knew existed – they talked about art a lot, and about design many times.

I remember a vast library in a garden studio, alongside the printing press where we made art together. I remember many vodka and lemonades. I even hazily remember his week-long visit to see me in Wellington while I was at design school. I learnt more in those few days than during the entire semester

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Les talked – I listened. At times I recall those conversations and recoil at my naivety. Les didn’t mind. A generous spirit that didn’t suffer fools, he had all the time in the world for someone that wanted to engage, wanted to think, wanted to talk.

His death, following a long and full life, during the final evening of the 2009 AGI congress in Istanbul, was bittersweet. But now, even though he’s not here, this image is. A painting that won’t stop burning.

Below: Uncle Les with young Clem Devine

Uncle Les with young Clem Devine

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Clem Devine is senior designer at Alt Group, New Zealand.

Read ‘The food, the type, the art director and his client’, Dominic Hofstede’s appreciation of Les Mason’s work at The Epicurean, in Eye 79.

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It’s available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop. For a taste of no. 79, see Eye before you buy on Issuu. Eye 79, Spring 2011, is out now.