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  • Author: David Whelan
  • Date: DECEMBER 13, 2023
  • Format: DIGITAL

Eric N. Mack

Eric N. Mack, Satin and fluid evening dresses, 2023. Assorted fabric, steel, 117 x 78 x 55 inches. © 2023 Eric N. Mack. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Photo: Steven Probert.

Eric N. Mack’s current exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery demonstrates a virtuosic understanding of fabric’s material characteristics, as well as its emotional range. Mack creates forms by hanging found fabric on solid supports such as the frame of a painting or a free-hanging armature. On a technical level, this demands close attentiveness to the visual qualities of fabric: color, pattern, texture. But so too Mack’s work requires an understanding of the way fabric moves and interacts with gravity, its structure and weight. Together, these elements make us palpably aware of the contingency and delicacy of all things, offering a chance to rethink our own relationship with the world we inhabit.

Upon entering the exhibition I was immediately drawn to Satin and Fluid Evening Dresses (2023), a small, mobile-like sculpture in the gallery’s left corner, slender and willowy. A fluorescent yellow handkerchief folds across one branch of the armature, while a patterned scarf drapes around another. Towards the center, a long blue bolt of fabric pours downward, gently brushing the floor. Mack places these fabrics with deceptive ease. The sculpture felt sparse at first, the composition attenuated, but it was this sense of lack that lured me in for a closer look. And it was here, at close quarters with the work, that I began to appreciate Mack’s gift for bridging the gap between sculpture and painting. While traditional mobiles typically balance light and heavy elements, Mack’s fabrics are practically weightless. Mack responds to this sculptural situation with painterly solutions, drawing our attention to the visual weight of each constituent part, a quality shaped by pattern, texture, edge, and color, rather than obdurate mass.

Installation view: Eric N. Mack, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, 2023. © 2023 Eric N. Mack. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Photo: Steven Probert.

2 Time (Sly) (2023), another mobile-like sculpture, is made up of several long pieces of gossamer fabric, pinned together and hung across an armature of horizontal bars. The shape of the piece reminds me of pulled taffy, or laundry draped on a rotary clothesline. Here, we see Mack the colorist, constructing a rich triadic color scheme of bright orange, lavender, and mint green. Each hue leaps from one cloth to the next, mixing and peeking through as if painted in layers, their sheerness balanced out by moments of flat opacity. Looking closely, I noticed sewing pins holding the swaths of fabric together. I was moved by this decision. Using pins to piece things together suggests an ongoing process of invention without a clear beginning or end, much like the uninterrupted pattern of rolling fabric.

Of the works gathered here, 4 Joe Mack (2023) stood out most dramatically. Its materials and their connections give the impression of something really worked through, as if the artist went to a place of true uncertainty and was required to find his way back by grappling with the painting process, showing us his discoveries along the way. I keyed into a pink and white polk-a-dot fabric. Maybe I noticed it because the fabric was familiar, relatable—something my mother would have worn. Following the path of this cloth was like reading a story. Beginning with one end stitched and held in place, the fabric is threaded through the clashing and intermingling mass of the work, and the story ends where it breaks free of this tension, falling gently towards the floor. The pleasure of looking at one of Mack’s works is in following how the disparate parts have come together, traveling the topography of the work, and identifying with the formal dramas the artist creates across its surface.

Eric N. Mack, 4 Joe Mack, 2023. Fabric on aluminum stretcher, stretcher: 74 x 85 inches, overall: 90 x 95 x 13 inches. © 2023 Eric N. Mack. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Photo: Steven Probert.

Mack’s abstractions propose a particular subjectivity, one that is deeply attentive to quality, sense, and surrounding. They show us that abstraction, like every language, is a fluid ever-changing system, made from elastic and malleable relationships. When I look at the work, I can’t help but get wrapped up in the stories: a tear in the fabric, a knot or braid, an unexpected piecing together, a seam that bends across the surface. All of these intuitive decisions by Mack express the range of emotion, the joy and the struggle, of being human, which means feeling the contradictions and tensions of existence as well as the joyous harmonies.