Biblical proportions: Artist David Mach talks about his epic new religion-themed show

By Mark Sheerin | 24 August 2011 | Updated: 24 September 2011
Colour photo of an artist next to a figurative sculpture made of coat hangers
David Mach and his sculpture Die Harder in the Precious Light exhibition© Alan Wylie
Exhibition: David Mach – Precious Light, City Art Centre, Edinburgh, until October 16 2011

Four hundred years since its translation from Hebrew and Latin into English, artist David Mach has translated the King James Bible into a contemporary visual language. And his new show in Edinburgh appears to revel in the Good Book’s grittiest and least pleasant scenes.

Panoramic collages of hellfire and brimstone are in evidence, together with painful looking assemblages of coathangers and matches. But Mach sees art as “part of the blood and guts of everyday”, unlike some more polite peers.

He also decries the New Testament as “middle class” and tells me via phone: “For epic pestilence and rape and famine and that I suppose you head towards the Old Testament. It gets a bit more nasty.”

Certainly his latest show can can bring out the worst in some. “The thing about the Bible is that people individually think it is absolutely theirs and you shouldn't fuck around with it,” he explains.

“It's a fascinating to thing to listen to what you think is an essentially 21st century person become a 300-400 year old bigot in a millisecond.”

One whole level of the four-floor show at City Art Centre is dedicated to cultural echoes of the Bible. So, in fact, Dylan and the Stones appear as influences, alongside Brueghel and Bosch.

“All that stuff comes at you hard and fast and it has done for centuries, whether you like it or not. It's coming through your ears. It's coming through the soles of your feet. You're drinking it with the water, whatever.”

But Mach appears to suggest that contemporary artists have it easy compared with the masters of bygone centuries. “The bible is very demanding of art, very demanding,” he says, “and I kind of like that”.

In the current exhibition, you won’t find the clinical approach which informs most white cube spaces. “It feels quite different. Those places are quite cool,” he explains. “This is not; this is burning hot. It's really fucking uncool.”

Colour photo of a sculpture of the devil in flames
David Mach, The Devil (2011). Performance shot
© Alan Laughlin
Some of the work is literally flammable. Earlier this month a sculpture of the devil made from thousands of red and yellow tipped matches was set alight during a performance at Edinburgh College of Art. That’s a lot of hard work up in smoke.

“The manhours are just stupid,” he says of his sculptures. “It’s just a dumb amount of manhours, but you're using a pathetically normal material like coathangers or matches.”

And visitors to the Edinburgh show will be able to witness some of that labour in a live studio set up on the 3rd floor. Mach and his team of assistants are working throughout the show to create a varnished collage, or decoupage, Last Supper.

Such time-consuming work is proof if proof were needed of the depths of the Fife artist’s engagement with religious themes. This show has been three years in the making. “I know absolutely that it's one of the artist's curses: they're deadly serious about what they do,” he says.

Friends in the business may have been surprised at his most recent direction. But Mach says his show is just “a sample of what you might get if I was religious, if I was some kind of evangelical."

But then he appears to reconsider. “Maybe I'm like that in the work,” he admits. “If you look at the work it's like its somebody with that kind of fervour. I think I've got the fervour without the religion.”

Since this is his biggest ever solo show with 70 pieces of art comprising 40 major works, it is just as well David Mach has fervour. As for religion - well, at least he has art.

Colour photographic collage of mass crucifixion in a modern day city
The Agony and The Ecstasy© David Mach
Colour photo of a crucifixion sculpture made out of coathangers
Die Harder
© David Mach
Colour photographic collage of a plague of frogs in a modern day city
The Plague of Frogs
© David Mach
  • Admission £5/£3.50. Open 10am-5pm Monday-Saturday (from 12pm Sunday).

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