Mach-Mania: An Interview with David Mach in HK

Words and Photography by Sylvia Le Dung
The exhibition entitled: Mach-Mania/The David Mach Show, at the Opera Gallery, is composed of the artist’s smaller-scale art, which are made up of his signature medium – recycled products, such as matchsticks, postcards, and coat hangers

The renowned Scottish sculptor, installation and collage artist, David Mach, has nothing hanging on his walls at home. “The most important thing for me is making it (art). To create, to me, that is the most fun,” says Mach.

I sat down with David Mach last week at Hong Kong’s Opera Gallery to discuss his very original creative process and inspiration, his Hong Kong exhibition, his current projects and his passion for his latest creative pursuit – drumming.

I notice right off, that Mach is strong willed and energetic, even though he admits to not sleeping much the night before. The artist tells me he’s recently quit smoking without the help of patches or gum, aids that are so common in the quitting process for lifelong smokers. Mach admits that his daughter and girlfriend don’t like the smoke. “Eventually, you see yourself standing alone, having a cigarette alone…it’s like alcoholism, you can stop now and (he snaps his fingers), you can be back on it again.” When asked why he’s decided to quit, Mach says that he’s noticed that cigarettes have slowed him down and removed his energy, something that the 56 year old is weary of, since he still likes to run through the park.

Mach is in Hong Kong to inaugurate his major solo exhibition at the Opera Gallery Hong Kong. The exhibition is an accumulation of almost three years of work, with some of the pieces on display having taken years to create.

The exhibition entitled: Mach-Mania/The David Mach Show, at the Opera Gallery, is composed of the artist’s smaller-scale art, which are made up of his signature medium – recycled products, such as matchsticks, postcards, and coat hangers. This exhibition is very different for Mach as he admits that ordinarily, he travels to a city and stays for two to three weeks to work on an installation, so it’s very rare for him to show up and see a selection of his work already on display. The exhibition includes pieces composed of matchsticks, such as the faces of Hollywood icons Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe and animated cartoon character, Betty Boop, as well as two-dimensional pieces of Superman and Captain America composed of postcards. The Opera Gallery exhibition also includes a two and a half meter long Cheetah, composed of 1,000 silver coat hangers.

The artist’s inspiration for these incredibly original works comes from everyday things. “You look for things because you don’t quite know what you are doing at first, but I mean you may get inspired and challenged to make that thing happen,” says Mach. “But after 40 years of making things, it happens naturally and you build up many things you’d like to do.” Mach works long hours on his craft, starting at 4am and working through until 8pm, when he breaks for dinner and then returns to his studio until midnight when he retires to bed, waking at 4am the next day to begin the whole cycle again.

As if that hectic schedule isn’t enough, Mach is also working on a book of poetry, which he would like to publish this year. “I never thought I’d write anything, so I’m delighted,” Mach says with a smile. The ever-enthusiastic artist’s latest foray is as the drummer in a band called The Voyeurz. Mach picked up drumming again when he was 50 years old but admits that he wishes he’d picked up drumming as a kid. “I got really tired of going to big dinners, fancy dinners, where you sit in your tuxedo and stuff and you’re sitting next to that guy and you go, ‘What do you do?’ and he responds with, ‘Well, I’m a brain surgeon and I speak five different languages,’ They speak 10 languages, they tell a joke in Belgian and laugh in French. ‘What do you do?’ ‘Well, I’m an artist, I make things and now I’m a drummer.’ I have to explain myself.”

Mach finds musical performance very interesting and different to making art and finds performing in a band fascinating. “All of a sudden you are in a noisy rogue atmosphere, where you have an audience that is looking for something and if you don’t deliver it, they just turn their back and sort of walk away, so it’s much more of a direct thing.” Comparatively, Mach mused, that when patrons visit a gallery, they deliberate the art, whereas musical appreciation is more instantaneous. “If you go and listen to a piece of music, you make a decision. You make a decision right away (snaps fingers), I like it or I don’t.” While he finds it strange, Mach likes that about music and its performance.

Mach feels that the art scene, world wide, has changed a lot over the years. “I mean years ago it felt, really felt like you were one of hundreds of artists. Now it feels like you are part of a whole country of artists. It’s like a nationality almost. There are so many more galleries and so many more collectors and many more opportunities it’s never been as good as it has been over the last 10 years. It’s been terrific you know, it’s opened up a lot of things.” At the same time Mach feels that if you are a buyer of art you have to “… pay attention to what you are looking for and asking ‘Is this art? What is it?’ You have to continually ask yourself. You should be examining it very carefully. But where there’s a lot to examine, people will get confused by it.”

When I asked him what was his favorite project to date he said it had to be The Precious Light project – a Biblical themed project that encompasses large collages that are as wide as 20 feet with infinite details of the darkness of hell and happiness of heaven and everything in between. Mach described the project as follows, ‘I don’t know how we did it, we should have gone nuts making it really. The details in these collages are ridiculous. We couldn’t stop putting things in these collages. This is the most intense piece in my life.’ The Precious Light Project’ was exhibited last year at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh in celebration of the themes and legacy of The King James Bible in the years of its 400th anniversary.  The massive collages illustrate well-known scenes from the Bible including Noah’s Ark, The Last Judgment, and Jacob’s Ladder etc. The pieces are being kept in Ireland in storage right now.

In his continuous pursuit to keep busy in the constantly evolving worlds of music and art, Mach is currently working on his latest endeavor – creating ‘gorgeous and voluptuous’ vases that are three times his height using pins; which one day he hopes to exhibit in Asia-Pacific countries. Mach admits that his creative process has come a long way since his younger days, “Years ago, when I was younger, if someone suggested that I’d be making vases, I’d be like, ‘What do you mean?’ but now I’m actually interested in that area and I love the color of these things. I can’t believe what I can get and order and what I can make out of it…I want to pursue this and see what happens.”

We can’t wait to find out.

Mach-Mania/ The David Mach Show is on at the Opera Gallery Hong Kong from November 22 – December 12. The Opera Gallery is located at 2-8 Wellington Street. G2.F, M88, Central, HK.