This special Robert Mack retrospective exhibition takes place on June 9 & 10, 2023 at the Rose Gallery. As a visual artist over the last 40 years, Robert Mack often addresses humanitarian and social issue themes, creating artwork in wide range of media including fine art photography, filmmaking, video installations and painting. Beginning in 2020, while sheltered in place and continuing today, Robert processed feelings of a world turned upside down, with his Anxiety Series oil paintings. Robert has exhibited his artwork in galleries throughout America and Europe, most notably with major exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Reiss-Engelhorn Museum in Mannheim, Germany.
Robert’s painted portraits also evoke a radical disjunction between the projection systems of figure and ground, but by very different means because, while the figure—in each case, a disembodied face emerging from an elaborately worked mass of hair— does reveal a degree of perspectival projection in which the vanishing point often occurs between the eyes; but the ground, on the other hand, reveals no perspectival projection at all because, consistently in Robert’s painted portraits, the ground is utterly flat. As in Bacon, and, for that matter, Balthus, who typically superimposes one projection system of a conventional grid of thirds on a Venetian grid of fourths, the tension of the opposed projection schemas, not only lends itself to a sense of a double picture plane that can even be slightly disorienting, it surely generates the sense of a figure at odds with the world.
This sense of a figure radically at odds with the world, and yet gazing out at it in a way that still presupposes the existence of an external world, perhaps is the most accurate and potent formal metaphor we have yet seen for the condition of imposed “ sheltering in place.” In this light, it also should be apparent why painting, not photography, was the medium necessary to achieve this synthesis. We can only hope that, besides constituting a series of images par excellence of the pandemic, these portraits and future paintings are not also harbingers of human life in the post pandemic future.
—Drew Hammond, Berlin
Critic, Curator, Art Journalist
Robert’s ongoing fine art photography project is his Wrapped Series where he covers subjects with sheer material creating intimate, beautiful and moody work that examines themes such as dreams, beauty, emotion, death, even transcendence. Where Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped buildings, Robert wraps the human form.
Robert Mack: “ Most of my Wrapped Series artwork takes place in the Southern Californian Hi-Desert and is a collaboration between the subject, myself and the early morning desert light which allows for magic to happen. My subjects are friends who awake before sunrise, still somewhat in the dream state and lie down outside on the desert floor. There are no assistants, make-up or hair, with the intention of creating uninterrupted intimacy. During the shoot, we enter into an unspoken pact of creative trust and when this occurs, the resulting images can transcend the two participants. “
Robert uses both digital and old school film mediums, never cropping the images so that they remain pure as originally visualized.
Robert uses only nature’s available light, and swirls the sheer material to in a way paint his subjects with resulting artwork that looks more like paintings than traditional photography. Robert’s photographs capture a moment of experience that reveals an inner deeper nature and asks us to reconsider them again and again.
Robert Mack conceived the Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity project where for two years he was invited and given the rare opportunity to interact with patients at an American maximum security hospital for the criminally insane. The resulting photography portfolio and 16 mm film has received two major museum exhibitions. Writes the German museum curator, Thomas Schirmböck, “ This exhibition is an extraordinary attempt to gain an understanding of an almost invisible part of society, the criminally insane, and the photographs transforms us with their human sensitivity. “
It would be easy to sensationalize this situation, but the photographers have succeeded in approaching this project with a clear concept, which does not exploit the lives of the subjects. Reinforced by exceptional artistic quality, these photographs challenge our stereotyped views while enriching our personal sensitivity. The fate of the criminally insane, sometimes committed for unspeakable atrocities, charges our emotions, often leading to regrettably predictable intolerance and misunderstanding. In the best tradition of documentary photography, these images educate, humanize our perceptions, and graphically illustrate the conflicts surrounding incarceration of the criminally insane.