Atlanta artist Eric Mack tackles both granular and grand in a solo show

The longtime art maker creates a delightful commentary on nature and culture in new exhibition, “Of Stone and Stem.”

One of the pleasures of being a critic writing about mainly local artists is seeing their work grow and change. It’s a privilege to be so up-close and personal to someone’s professional and personal journey.

I first wrote about Eric Mack in 2002 when he was 26 and living in an apartment so splattered with paint I feared for his security deposit. Nineteen years later, one marriage, one baby and a great deal of living in the interim have transformed Mack, like most of us, in more ways than one.

Mack has become a prolific gardener whose Instagram account is porn for plant people. And the new work in his Whitespace Gallery solo show “Of Stone and Stem” intercuts that interest in the natural world with the same kinetic bricolage of materials and form that has always defined his art. It’s exciting to see that fragments of Mack’s signature remain, but developed and enlarged with his new anthophile interests.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

The works in “Of Stone and Stem” are often about the places where nature and culture collide in two systems defined by order and chaos. His mixed media work “FRN-11” is an example; a frenetic mix of square tiles and orderly grids floating against his backdrop of handmade paper and wooden scaffolding through which robust, determined plants grow. Anyone familiar with English ivy or kudzu knows about the resilience and avidity of the plant kingdom that allows it to dominate even the most well-constructed brick and mortar. Sometimes the living and the human-made world collide in serendipitous ways in the work. In “PLX-7” Xeroxed images of seed pods look like the grooviest modernist architecture, miniature Buckminster Fuller structures set against a backdrop of chock-a-block forms.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

In these complex works the hard angles and discrete grids of mechanical and architectural renderings, are blended with palm fronds, yucca and in some of his works, literal plants growing up through Mack’s sculptures that he’s seeded with potting soil and seedlings. Mack’s burnished mosaic of handmade paper, glitter, mango leaves, string, paint, recycled packing paper, photocopies and tissue paper are layered into a headcheese of color and texture.

Mack is still just as obsessed with systems. His mixed media works can often look like aerial maps where farmland and sea and suburban tracts of teeny tiny houses have the satisfying order of Mondrian grids. “STST-003” suggests a bird’s-eye view of a landscape where a city abuts the sea, and the chaos of the built environment abuts amorphous, shape-shifting nature.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

In “Of Stone and Stem” Mack has translated his love of the microcircuit board and the macro cityscape into works that ponder nature as its own set of systems. Like looking at an orange segment or a leaf up close, nature is revealed to be a circuitry of tiny constituent parts of its own. Contemplative and metaphysical, the work considers how each living thing is its own autonomous world of cells and tissue. For someone already familiar with Mack’s work, this latest solo show can feel like watching someone who once fixated on details lifting his head up to ponder something greater.

One of my favorite pieces in the show is an installation “ARC-01” built of wood and rising out of the gallery floor like a cross between a shed and Tony Smith-style minimalist sculpture. Like dandelions poking through a sidewalk crack, an explosion of soil and plants burst out of an opening in the structure: euphorbia, eucalyptus, sedum reminding you of the resilience of nature. (Mack is plant-nerd enough to namecheck the Latin genus and species.)

Installation works in a show like this can often feel like showy one-offs. But not here. Mack finds great success in rendering his idea of a natural world of enormous fortitude and dimension continuing to coexist — sometimes even overtake — our houses and pavement, cities and harbors and seemingly impenetrable artificial landscape. Plants in this piece become like paint or clay or bronze — another material for an artist to use to express an idea.


“Of Stone and Stem”

Through April 24. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays. COVID-19 guidelines followed. Free. Whitespace Gallery, 814 Edgewood Ave., Atlanta. 404-688-1892,