Mach Meets His Maker

A mere couple of weeks before his show opens at City Art Centre, <strong>David Mach</strong> finds time for a wee blether with The Skinny

Feature by Adeline Amar | 29 Jul 2011

Fife-born artist David Mach is doing pretty well for himself. At 55, he has a Turner Prize nomination under his belt, installations dotted around the country and has an upcoming festival show at the City Art Centre.

Based on the 400 year anniversary of the King James Bible – the 1611 English translation of the Bible still widely used to this day – the show will be composed of around 80 collages and sculptures spanning five floors, and including his famous matchheads – busts sculpted using matchsticks.

In a typical Mach-move, two busts of the Devil and Jesus, made of matches and bigger than life-size, will be burnt in public at the show’s two separate openings events.

A Christian-Pagan binary opposition, I suggest?

“My natural inclination is to burn those things,” he laughs. “They are like fireworks, a celebration. If we have bright reds, yellows and blues because of the different pigments in the head of the matches, we get different shades of greys and blacks. Nothing is destroyed, it’s all completely intact. The sculpture seems to age before your very eyes. But the performance is very dramatic; it’s not destructive, it’s creative.”

Another unusual aspect of the show is Mach’s studio, which will occupy a whole floor for visitors to watch the artist at work. Assistants, photocopiers and easels are all to be packed up and shipped to Edinburgh, where Mach and his team will work on a 25-foot-wide collage of The Last Supper.

Using a studio as part of a show, or building on the myth of the artist isn’t a new thing. One can for instance recall Tracey Emin living in an art gallery to overcome her painting block, all the while turning the visitors into peeping Toms.

Mach isn’t exactly impressed by my Emin reference: “Moving my studio is something I’ve done for years, it’s been part of my work for decades.” Does the work ever get influenced by the location, then? “It’s different this time, because we’re not making a sculpture, we’re making a collage, so obviously we’re planning that here [in London]. But I’m sure there’ll be influences up there. Things will happen. That’s why I very much like to work in public like that. People see what you do, you know?”

Against all expectations, the show isn’t meant as a religious message but “A comment about the state of the world.” Relatively few collages show religious scenes, and Mach happily admits he’s yet to read the Bible.

“I use images from magazines, and if you go to different magazines they tell you different things – about the war, fashion, food – we’re just subjects to these things whether we like it or not. (…) They come from everybody and everyday life. They’re in our world. And I like that – a language that we all use. Even if you’re not an artist, you are still aware of these things.”

And although Mach has been making collages and matchheads for decades now, he insists this show isn’t a retrospective: “Although you’re making a collage again, you develop every time you make one: you develop a new style, a new element comes in. The collages become action-packed; it’s like making a still from a film, it’s a very odd thing. I find myself acting like a director: ‘OK, bring the horses in from the right hand side at a gallop’. I find that very exciting, all the possibilities and the ways of experimenting.”

Mach won’t take any time off after this show, as he’s due to start exhibits in Dubai, Geneva and at London’s V&A. He chuckles: “We’re going to do a collage of the Kama Sutra. It’ll be great fun!”

Mon-Sat 10am - 5pm; Sun 12pm - 5pm £5.00 (£3.50 concs) £2.50 for children aged 5 to 16, and £11.00 for a family ticket for two adults and two children or one adult and three children. Season tickets: £8 for adults, £5.50 for concessions, £4.00 for children and £17.50 for families