Artists tackle ideas of imagined, created space

After a sabbatical of four years during which he lived and worked in Munich, Germany, artist Eric Mack has returned to Atlanta, where he offers a more polished and ambitious incarnation of his kinetic, busy, mixed-media works.

Imagine the guts of a computer’s circuit board, or a science fiction film set in some floating city of the future, and you have a sense of this inventive artist’s style. Though Mack’s language is abstraction, his use of identifiable text, numbers and other artifacts of the representational world means his work straddles the purely formal and something more approachable. His titles, which always include a number and the letters “SRFC,” allude to his new show’s title, “Surface + Structures,” and reference the model numbers in stereo systems, tape decks, boom boxes and video games, an affectionate homage to the technology of Mack’s youth.

Mack’s work appears alongside painter Ashlynn Browning’s in “Surfaces + Structures” at Inman Park’s Whitespace Gallery, and despite very different approaches and styles, both artists work well in tandem.

Mack’s European odyssey has clearly impacted his visual lexicon. His new works draw heavily from his time abroad, incorporating Munich train maps, crossword puzzles, signage, fliers, European architectural diagrams and Turkish textile patterns. Mack’s work is a mad flurry of typography, numbers and letters, graphics and colors that give your eyeballs a workout as you take in an array of visual stimuli. Mack mixes a plethora of materials — including the above media but also glitter, paint and bits and pieces of vintage books — in works on paper and canvas that continue to stand in for the fracas and madly buzzing character of modern life.

“Surfaces + Structures” is an interesting pairing of two artists tackling ideas of imagined, created space, though Mack may remain the more accessible of the two. Browning’s work owes a debt to artists such as Philip Guston, known for his colorful, cartoonish forms. But Browning’s work is far more reserved and orderly than the surreal, fleshy forms in neo-expressionist Guston’s kit bag.

Browning’s work is a fitting accompaniment to Mack’s graphic, spatially-acrobatic collages. Browning is also drawn to abstractions that can suggest architecture and energy rendered in some re-constituted form. But whereas Mack’s works are layered and humming with activity, Browning’s oil-on-panel paintings are purposefully one-dimensional. Executed in a matte color scheme of neon pinks and limes set against plain, industrial grays, Browning’s paintings are scrubbed of too much detail. The paintings are flat renderings of the states and circumstances she depicts.

While Mack’s works are explosive, Browning’s works are contained spheres of activity hemmed in with geometric forms like the geodesic dome shape featured in “Guston as a Boy.” In that work, a colorful geometric shape in the foreground with the look of a plastic child’s toy sprouts a minimalist halo in the same geometric style above. Titles like “Perseverance,” “Electrified” or “Rocking the Boat” suggest psychological mindsets or states of being. That excitement is often conveyed with the bold pink, yellows, blues and reds of her helix- and girder-like structures set against concrete-colored backdrops.

In “Electrified” a hot pink line surrounds a dense cluster of color and line, suggesting a sort of dangerous or exciting barrier. There is a contained and coiled energy about these paintings, like power lines or water mains whose power is only revealed once they break or burst. Browning’s works are not unappealing, though their biggest fans will surely be those with a taste for both abstraction and for locating Browning’s vocabulary in its history.

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