Briefly describe the work you do.
My work ranges from video, photo, objects, installations, and performance. Exhibitions are often a combination of these modes of working. I use the familiarity of team sports to echo societal stratification, restriction, and the individual’s lack of agency.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
Years ago, I was playing a specific sport for the first time. I decided to participate in a competition and was repeatedly called for infractions that were unknown to me. My playing went from aggressive and confident, to reserved. As I reflected on this experience, I was amazed by my personal transformation and started to see a correlation between the influence of authority in sport and societal rules and norms. Around this time I also had lost confidence in the ability of objects to solely convey analogies, so I started to expand my studio practice to include lens-based approaches with performance. Eventually, I realized that portions of sport can constitute a performance and my productions grew from there.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My more involved performances have many stages. Early in the production, I work by myself in my studio fabricating objects and environments and planning shoots. Eventually I hire assistants to help complete pre-production. I then recruit athletes to perform, reserve and travel to a specific venue, and shoot my productions with 3-4 production assistants and up to twenty athletes. Afterwards, I’m at a computer editing photos and video, and back at the studio I put the final touches on objects to prepare them for display.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I spend a lot of studio time with logistical concerns. A recent video project consisted of me trying to track down Olympic-bound athletes. After months of communication with scores of athletes, I succeeded in convincing someone to do the shoot, flew to their location, reserved a venue, rented video equipment, secured assistants, and shot the piece. The actual piece took barely any time to shoot and edit, but it took months of studio time to bring everything together. I found that I tend to play the role of director; spending more time making things happen, than making things.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I tend to refine, research, and plan my projects each day, but the majority of my work happens in condensed, productive, multi-day stints in the studio working on objects or editing after a shoot.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
My kinesthetic awareness of my work and an overall consideration of objects and materiality has increased in the last five years. Even though I shoot a lot of video and photos, I am still concerned with the object and how the performance participants interact with the created objects. I’m starting to believe in the power of objects again.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
There is a recent surge in the research concerning organized sports and sociology. Whenever my ideas slow down, I turn to some books published on the matter. Some recent influential reads have been “Players All: Performances in Contemporary Sport” by Robert E. Rinehart and “Sport, Theory and Social Problems” by Eric Anderson.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I’d probably be involved with production in the film industry. It would be a toss-up between set design and cinematography.
About Eric McMaster
R. Eric McMaster received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from The Pennsylvania State University in 2003 and a Master’s degree in Sculpture from Arizona State University in 2008. He has shown extensively, including exhibitions in New York, Paris, New Delhi, Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Phoenix, among others. He is a recipient of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Professional Fellowship, the Ted Decker Catalyst Fund and numerous scholastic grants and scholarships. Competitive sports are the current vehicle through which McMaster explores themes of order, resistance, and the individual versus the collective. His works often involve fabricated objects, installations, video, photography, performance, and/or athletes. R. Eric McMaster currently lives in Austin, TX where he teaches at the University of Texas at Austin’s Art and Art History Department.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.