Scottish Artist David Mach Straddles the Intersection of Design and the Dumbfounding

Two things in life are certain: death (unfortunately), and the accumulation of things. The math, of course, is simple — the longer we live, the more “things” we accumulate.

Keenly aware of this, Scottish artist David Mach is able to take life’s accumulations and turn them into exquisite sculptures so unique that you’ll have to do a double-take just to verify they’re real. Take, for example, Adding Fuel to the Fire: an installation assembled from an old truck and several cars surrounding it, the vehicles were subsumed by about 100 tons of magazines to create the impression that the automobiles were on fire. Also well-known for his collage pieces, Mach has created installations such as his National Portrait, a roughly 10-foot by 230-foot collage for London’s Millennium Dome that featured images of British folk involved in various activities.

Nominated for the Turner Prize (an annual prize awarded to visual artists under the age of 50 in Britain) in 1988, Mach defines the word workaholic. At 56, he maintains a schedule that one could argue is busier than the bees from which that phrase originates: not only is he a full-time artist, he’s a professor at the famed Royal Academy of Arts in London, writes poetry and short stories, and plays drums in a band called The Voyeurz (check out their Youtube channel here). One would assume he finds time to sleep somewhere in there, or also serves as a human guinea pig for energy drink companies.

In between bites of falafel and sips of coffee while trying to catch a 7:30 a.m. flight to Edinburgh, GALO was able to catch up with Mach. Here’s what he had to say.

GALO: Your sculpture Hell Bent was recently exhibited in London as part of the Deptford X Contemporary Arts Festival. What is the story behind this piece?

David Mach: I’d used images of the fire-eaters in some of my collages and then briefly took it up myself. I gave it up pretty quickly when I stabbed myself in the throat with a burning spear! So, the image was in my head for some time.

I like fire-eaters. I like the way that they’re kind of louche — you’d be a bit wary taking your fire-eating boyfriend home to meet your mom and dad. They’re flamboyant, extravagant, celebratory, anti-conservative figures. That appeals to me a lot.

GALO: Another recent work, Precious Light, recently had a showing in Ireland. Could you describe the concept behind it?

DM: I had the idea 12 years ago to “illustrate” the King James Bible. That idea festered for six or seven years before I turned it into an 80 collage, strong, massive sculpture show — Precious Light.

It became inspired by the King James Bible rather than me illustrating it. It became as much a show about how we live today as much as biblical stories. It’s my biggest show to date. Again, it’s epic and extravagant.

GALO: What would you say inspires you to create such extravagant works of art, as you yourself call them; ones that straddle the intersection between design and the dumfounding?

DM: I think I’m over-inspired. I’m certainly in a state of flux at the minute. I’m driven to make collage and sculpture; I just can’t seem to get enough of it. I think it’s partly because I’ve been in a kind of collage hell for the last 20 years. I must have looked at hundreds of thousands of images during that time. I have a colossal image bank of hand copied images; I think that working with all that stuff has overstimulated me.

GALO: You studied at the Royal College of Art in London. What kind of impact has your schooling there had on your work?

DM: Not a lot. I felt a more significant impact from one or two lecturers, who pointed me in good directions. My first college, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee, Scotland, had a huge impact [on me]. It was probably the best place in the world for a guy like me to go [to], with its emphasis on drawing and making. There were many wonderful and inspiring teachers there and many events that shaped my interests and pushed me into a career.

GALO: Many of your works are constructed from assemblages composed of mass-produced found art objects. Why these pieces?

DM: I like using things that people know. Matches, coat hangers, pins, magazines, tires… The list is endless. I like that link with people, even my collage work is made of things that people have seen and know. None of these materials are precious, bought in a special place for artists. They come from a place that we all live in. There’s so much of it too, it’s partly the reason that I’ve become a materials junkie over the years.

GALO: Is there a favorite piece you’ve constructed? Why that piece?

DM: I like the magazine pieces a lot [and] the coat hanger sculptures too. Truthfully, your favorite one would be the next one you’re about to work on. We’ve just imported five million pins from China for some new work; I’m very excited about that.

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