Harlan Mack On His Salvaged Bicycle Bear And The Art Of Working With No Expectations

Jun 16, 2016

Sculptor, painter and blacksmith Harlan Mack tells a story through his art. And Mack, who is the sculpture tech at Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, just added another character to the narrative.

The entirety of his works in paint and sculpted metal are part of an ongoing history that aim to tell the story of another world.

The world in Mack's narrative is full of people and problems, themes and symbolism and animals.

In his non-linear fashion, he paints and sculpts pieces that represent each element.

On a recent visit to his workspace, I got to see the creative process behind his latest sculpture-in-progress.

He was creating a new piece from old bike parts for the UpCycle Art Bikes Competition from Catamount Arts and Kingdom Trails.

"I work backwards. So I expect it to connect later. And I'm kind of looking forward to seeing how that translates into the entire body of my work because that's one of the benefits of working backwards and being comfortable with it: Not having any expectations from whatever it is that I'm making." — Harlan Mack

The finished work, titled 'Jasmine,' represents a bear carrying or leaning on a briefcase.

The sculpture was created from salvaged bike parts found in snowbanks and the river near Mack's studio. Several pieces were also from a local bike shop that were destined to be discarded.

Harlan Mack's latest sculpture, titled 'Jasmine,' is made entirely from discarded bicycle parts. Mack submitted the work to the UpCycle Arts Bike competition put on by Catamount Arts.
Credit Harlan Mack

As for which portion or symbol Jasmine plays in his narrative, Mack said, "It's sort of like, 'prodigal son returns,' but my prodigal son always returned with a suitcase or a briefcase. Eventually, they all tie back to each other and start to make sense in the narrative and then my understanding of the narrative informs my next work."

Mack chose to have his bear sculpture standing on the ground instead of up on a pedestal so if a viewer were to encounter it in a gallery, they might perceive it more as a real animal.

Mack picks up a coin he blacksmithed in his Johnson studio. The metal faces all play roles in his on-going narrative that encompasses his body of artwork, including paintings and sculpture.
Credit Chloe B. Pepin

"It sort of activates the imagination of the viewer a little so that they can make up their own stories backwards like I do," Mack said.

See more of Harlan Mack's work here.

Several other local artists submitted their works of bike-part sculptures to The UpCycle Art Bikes Competition.

Winning art bikes will be displayed at Kingdom Trails in East Burke during the Northeast Mountain Bike Association Festival from Friday to Sunday, June 17 to 19 and remain on view through October 2016. Catamount Arts will award a $1,000 Juror’s Prize and other cash prizes.