Chinati artist in residence Eric N. Mack tries Marfa on 

Eric N. Mack at the Locker Plant during his Chinati Foundation artist residency, which recently concluded. Photo by Mary Cantrell.

MARFA — Passersby and visitors to the Locker Plant during the habitation of Eric N. Mack, the Chinati Foundation’s latest artist in residence, witnessed waves of magenta and crimson chiffon fabric flowing through the once-butcher shop’s public storefront. 

Mack, who is based in New York City, recently held an open studio where temporary fabric and sculpture installations played off of the building’s rich history, occupying the space in new ways. The artist said he wanted the immediate visibility of his studio activities to draw in the public, their curiosity hopefully leading to an investment in what was taking place there. 

“There is this relationship with the community and being visible,” said Mack. “I didn’t want to cover up the windows at all, not just because it was my light source, but it was a way that people can interact with [the installation] without being directly in the space.” 

An installation view of Chinati artist in residence Eric N. Mack’s recent open studio. Photo by Mary Cantrell.

Mack said he intentionally placed the transparent, warm-hued silk and polyester chiffon fabrics in the fully-illuminated front room of the Locker Plant because of their ability to play off of the light, and because the simple, primary colors framed by large windows of green grass and blue skies served as an effective backdrop.

Mack, who grew up in Maryland, received his Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale University and previously worked in the fashion industry. He said he wanted to activate and “stretch out and explore the architecture” of the Locker Plant during his stay in Marfa. As an artist, Mack tends to view fabric as his paint and space as his canvas, he said. 

“My practice is really connected to languages of painting and thinking about conditions of light that can be communicated through surface,” he said. 

Photo by Mary Cantrell.

His process of creating 3D sculptures in fabric and, for the open studio, in metal, is experimental and often involves incorporating found objects. Mack scoured local thrift and vintage stores for fabric, and the dump for interesting metal pieces, and hung many works in the show with orange rope he bought at the local hardware store. 

The result was a sensorial experience — work leaned against walls and spilled onto the floor, panels of fabric cut to various shapes and sizes bisected wide-open spaces, creating nooks and filling cold, industrial rooms with color and texture. 

The artist achieved his goal of creating new vantage points for a frequently-viewed space, and textiles ran the gamut from a tattered chiffon curtain partially destroyed with bleach to an African Dutch wax fabric draped in a shape reminiscent of an animal hide. 

“There’s a range of explorations. Some [fabrics] are kept as they are, some go under a transformation [with] dye or bleach or a mending process,” said Mack. 

Mack said he considers how to evoke subjects of vulnerability and fragility when working with fabrics, including how “the delicacy of the fabrics and the particular nature of how they drape and fall, what it means for them to be cut” impact the objects. Mack said he would also like to start experimenting with designing his own fabrics soon. 

Photo by Mary Cantrell.

With his Chinati residency behind him, Mack will soon have his first solo show with his current gallery, Paula Cooper Gallery. His first time out to Marfa, Mack became accustomed to riding a bike provided by the foundation around town and performing desert-dwelling precautionary measures such as shaking out his boots before sliding them on. 

Mack said he plans to return to Marfa to see the Judd Foundation’s collections at the Block, which are currently inaccessible due to ongoing renovations. The artist appreciated viewing some samples of Judd’s textile collection while he was here, and noticed amusingly that Donald Judd wore a lot of plaid. “The squares, of course he would be able to possess that,” joked Mack.