Artist Eric N. Mack was born in Columbia in 1987, but now resides in New York, the city where he makes his large-scale works from found materials in a vast studio space in South Bronx. Mack speaks with a soft intonation over the phone, reflective of the textile medium he employs in his practice, which fits comfortably between the realms of sculpture and installation, drawing inspiration from fashion. He refers to himself as a painter, however, and also examines the language of Abstract Expressionism in the formalities of his mish-mashed, vivid style.
Having been selected by Lorna Simpson to receive the BALTIC Artist’s Award 2017, Mack is now showing at the Gateshead gallery alongside three fellow emerging practitioners. Here, he tells AnOther about his love of Grace Wales Bonner, John Galliano and why Dalston’s Vogue Fabrics – haberdashery by day, LGBT club by night – provided him with vital source of inspiration.
On fashion… “I’ve always been interested in fashion so it’s a really active point of reference in my work – I’ve always seen it as something congruent to art history. The things I see in fashion today, the kind of trends, the runway shows, the kind of images and juxtapositions, texture of fabrics all signal to me as something meaningful. My dad had a clothing store when I was growing up and so I always identified with the urban streetwear he was selling and the things that were popular on the runway. With my work, I like drawing particular connections to the materials I am curious about. In a way, I feel like it’s thinking in a similar way to a stylist – it has so much to do with being able to pull really specific items that have meaning, and then create a new one based on the wearer and the image you’re trying to portray.”
On his inspirations… “I used to work at a magazine store where I would organise art magazines, fashion magazines and the weeklies. At that point, I was constantly pulling pages that I thought were really interesting while I was doing my shift. I’m obsessed with Grace Wales Bonner at the moment – she’s amazing. I just connect with the figure she designs for, the shells, the diamonds the velvet – the sensuality of the clothing is so special to me. Alongside her, I see John Galliano as somebody who is the stylist as well as the designer; who assembles pieces together to tell a story.”
On responding to space… “There are definitely some new ways that I’m activating the work as part of the new show at the BALTIC. I would say that there is like more of an investigation of space. The BALTIC is a huge building in itself and when I did a site visit back in March, I had to think carefully about how the work was going to manifest in such a vast area. There are repeated motifs that occur in my work, but it is always unique because it responds to the gallery – or wherever it is being shown – in terms of proportion, as the fabric often hangs from walls and ceilings. My pieces always have a very particular emotional connection with the site I show in, so I kind of have to build my work whilst considering those things in order to know how it will feel. I’d love to show my work outdoors some day, but I like the white cube format because it adds so much drama.”
On Dalston’s Vogue Fabrics… “I named one of my recent shows after the East London club Vogue Fabrics. It’s such a cool place. I went there with a couple friends in the fall, but the context got stuck in my head and it just felt an appropriate name for the subjects that I wanted the viewers to locate within the work. In particular, the idea of representing space through materiality and finding familiarity in abstraction and fragmentation.”