David Mach RA: Heavy Metal Pangolin Gallery Kings Cross – Clare Henry

David Mach

David Mach RA has always worked big. His sculpture always controversial, ambitious, and monumental. I first met him in 1983 when his life-size representation of the nuclear-powered Polaris submarine made out of car tyres appeared outside London’s Hayward Gallery on the Southbank. A graduate from Dundee’s art school, he was just out of the Royal College, but Polaris made every front page. 

This Turner Prize nominee, Royal Academician and professor of sculpture at the Royal Academy since 2010 is still pushing boundaries, aiming high. “My next project will be the wonder of the world’, he told me recently. He wasn’t joking.

David Mach and Clare Henry Photo © Clare Henry
David Mach and Clare Henry Photo © Clare Henry

His London exhibition Heavy Metal, at Pangolin London, Kings Cross, London, is a series of 20 maquettes for public works of art plus architectural pieces around the world and charts his development from sculpture to architecture. “It’s a natural shift”, he explains. Covid and Brexit have, of course, interfered with the development of them all, but “Now I’m inundated with work.” Currently, he has architectural projects on the go in London, Edinburgh, Mauritius and Syria.

Having built works in shopping centres, parks, streets and car showrooms as often as in galleries or museums, Mach is used to the challenges of creating work in the face of an ever-mounting bureaucracy. “Like all artists, I must deal with the assault course of ever-increasing barriers to creativity. With public art, there are ever more hoops to jump through: health and safety issues to deal with, social agendas to consider, budgets, planners, commissioners and curators to get past. That’s all part of the struggle, but it’s all doable if you work at it and are persistent. I have great fun pushing those boundaries.”

Ever since his debut Polaris piece, Mark has used unorthodox materials. Over the years, as his projects grew, he turned to a huge ready-made – the shipping container. ‘Temple of Tyre’ in Leith 1994 was among the first to involve Mach’s signature use of these. Since then, his ideas, and obsession with containers, have grown. Now he is all set for a foray into sculptural architecture. Considering them to be one of the world’s most influential inventions, they are intrinsic to the large-scale maquettes at HEAVY METAL that showcases his designs for Mach1, an art gallery to be built in Edinburgh Park, a library for Antioch University in Damascus and a giant sculpture for Chiswick Roundabout in London.

Construction at the 500-acre Edinburgh Park should begin later this year. Edinburgh Park will have a variety of homes. Offices etc. Mach’s centrepiece building involving 30 to 40 containers, is a gallery space for events, theatre, comedy club, art festivals and marketing suite. “It sailed through planning! He told me. This commission is a collaboration with Dixon Jones architects.

Mark has long worked with Pangolin foundry, whose London gallery is dedicated to exhibiting sculpture. The bronzes memorialize his two significant previous projects,” Temple of Tyre and ‘Train’. I went to the launch of the actual 180 ft long 185,000 brick Darlington Train back in 1997, never expecting to see it re-made in 14ft bronze 25 years later! My archive tells me I have written about him over 40 times since 1983, covering his exploits and exhibitions from Warsaw to Paris, Bonn to Leith. His train made the front page of all British newspapers, as did the time I set his matchstick mask on fire in the Royal Academy courtyard. As planned, I hasten to add!

None of the maquettes on show are small – the one for the sculpture planned for Chiswick Roundabout is itself 300 feet tall. The actual work will be tall. Mach’s hardcore team of longtime assistants, Karen Murat, Adrian Moakes, Patrick Milne, Jeremy Butler and his brother Robert, are kept busy.

Recently Mach moved back home to Fife, where he grew up, and next door to his brother Robert, who he has always collaborated with. He retains a London studio, as work demands he shuttles to and fro. This will be harder come the summer as Mach and his partner Lindsey are expecting a baby! But juggling life is nothing new to Mach, whose grown-up daughter lives in Canada.

Another landmark project this year is for a Mauritius-based company which deals with sugar, shipping and owns a third of the island. Containers are part of its business, so Mach’s work is highly appropriate. His design is based on a ship’s decanter with a vast base and long, narrow neck. In this case, the’ neck’ will be 500ft high!! Needless to say, the Syrian University Library collaboration with Michel Zayat, an Australian architect based in Dubai, is on hold. “I was working on design after design. Then Co-Vid hit.”

Mach still finds time for things nearer home. He and Robert are having a second show at Stirling Art Gallery in August-September. By then, he will be able to walk his two whippets and the baby on Largo beach as he plans his next ‘wonder of the world.”

Heavy Metal is at Pangolin London Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9AG, 25th January – 25th March

Words/Photos Clare Henry © Artlyst 2023

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