PaperCity Magazine

April 2019- Dallas

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Page 82 of 99

81 C atherine MacMahon is in her studio near Bluffview, showing me how she bends steel rods with the help of an old blacksmithing tool. "You insert a lever that works like a fulcrum and use your own body weight to bend the rod," she says, demonstrating. Her graceful frame seems more suited to ballet than manipulating heavy metal, but she gets the job done. The dichotomy fascinates her. "I love the idea that the human body can bend steel, using a little help," she says. MacMahon is a conceptual artist with a head for math and an undergraduate degree in architecture. The analytical and creative sides of her brain are always at work, and it shows in her sculpture. Colorful bent rods create geometric patterns along one wall in the studio, and next to those, an assemblage of unbent rods is placed in parallel lines. That's what you see, at least. What you don't readily see is at the heart of MacMahon's art: the body bending the rods, the hands then meticulously wrapping each rod in fine threads, all precisely placed to convey a concept. "I'm interested in the conceptual ideas of the body, the mind, and space," she says. "It's not obvious what I'm doing when you look at them, and I don't know that I mind that." Ponder her work this way: Steel rods become thin lines. The threads also become lines capable of moving in space, and they wrap around the rods and touch back upon themselves. More lines are created. "I think of them as simultaneously being drawing, painting, and sculpture," she says of her three-dimensional works. "They are drawings because they are lines — one of the most primitive human acts of creativity is to make a line. My paint is the thread. They are sculptural, but they are also landscapes." Some of the wrapped rods on the wall are representations of her recent travels to the Wyoming and Montana border. "Imagine if you looked at a landscape, then you just sliced a line out of that picture," MacMahon says. "That's what you're seeing, conceptually." This technique of seeing is how she was trained to draw plans in architecture school at the University of Texas at Austin, and she's interpreted that vision in her artwork. "I've always been interested in structure, and that's what led me to architecture school," she says. There, she was heavily influenced by experimental-design classes directed under Lois Weinthal, the former design director at Parsons The New School. The classes explored the relationships between architecture, interiors, clothing, and objects. "Lois had a big impact on my thinking," MacMahon says. "There was a real sense of experimentation. Everything I had thought of as interior design was not on the table. Not because it didn't matter, but because those new ways of thinking about space and perception were so much more exciting." After architecture school, she moved to San Francisco in 2002 and worked for a firm designing retail stores around the country, including Williams-Sonoma and Gap. Seeds planted by Weinthal's creative teaching had already taken root, however. After a few years, MacMahon quit the architecture firm and enrolled at California College of the Arts. "I had these ideas, and the only place I could think for teasing out this intuitive curiosity was grad school," says MacMahon, 42. "I was totally unsure of how it would translate into art. I let the work flow and trusted that instinct to keep following an idea, even when I didn't yet understand it." (continued on page 82) The 20-foot-high vaulted ceiling supports a pulley to haul heavy objects through the studio. Ladders help the artist access stored materials and to place her art. MacMahon's works include pieces for her April show at Erin Cluley Gallery, including steel rods wrapped in embroidery thread and demolished concrete works in progress.

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