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A study in abstraction 

A winning combination of talent and charm put artist Eric Mack on the fast track

While the rest of us are content to just nose-breathe, Eric Mack gulps oxygen and information like a dying man. He gets excited about everything from the food to the ambiance while chatting at the hipster grotto Teaspace in Little Five Points. He uses chopsticks like an expert. He notices design and nuance. He solicits opinions. He is ravenous for knowledge, for stimulation, inspiration, direction. An hour or two spent in his company feels like mainlining the very essence of youth.

In Mack's world, music is always blasting: Pizzicato Five or Nirvana or Strawberry Alarm Clock. The style may change, but the beat goes on. Mack is currently knocked out by a neo-'80s band from Liverpool called Ladytron. Later in the day, while holding court in his paint-encrusted Briarcliff apartment, he enthuses, "You gotta go get that album."

From his dreadlocked head to his Kenneth Cole boots, the 26-year-old artist seems somehow melodic even in his attire. His art -- upbeat futuristic collages with a dose of '80s nostalgia -- could be described in the same terms.

Mack makes wild-style collaged paintings. Their infectiously frenzied cacophony of colors, grids and interwoven arteries suggests electronic circuit boards, city maps, quilts and, of course, music. Chock full of snaking highways of color, scraps of pop culture artifacts, movement, energy and the frenzied, blood-pumping course of life itself, Mack's work sings.

When talking about Mack's success to high-powered gallery owners and local artists, the word that comes up most often is, in a nutshell, charm. With his funky United Colors of Value Village clothes, long dreadlocks and good looks, Mack cuts a striking figure, and he isn't oblivious to the effect he has on people.

In part, that is what's allowed Mack to adapt to the inner workings of the Atlanta art scene like a duck to water. Early on, he learned to appreciate the elements of performance and salesmanship. For instance, instead of taking the usual route of anonymously mailing slides to potential galleries, Mack decided to cut out the middleman -- phone, e-mail, mail -- and go back to basics. Now he always delivers slides, resumes or postcards of upcoming shows to writers and gallery owners in person.

"People like it," he says. "That's what separates me from the average artist."

He may be onto something. Although he graduated from the Atlanta College of Art just four years ago, Mack has been a steadily growing phenomenon on the Atlanta art scene. He's shown work at Youngblood Gallery, Gallery Eleven50, City Gallery East and Fay Gold Gallery. He's sold paintings to private and corporate collectors, like the Atlanta law firms King & Spalding and Alston & Bird.

In short, Eric Mack has become a mini-tsunami on the Atlanta art scene.

Mack had an American childhood most notable for its straight-arrow normality. Born in Charleston, S.C., he spent his entire life before college in its suburbs along with two siblings, his cosmetologist mother Betty and father Arthur, an electrician.

"I played T-ball, team sports -- fishing, family trips, karate, Boy Scouts," Mack says, listing his Cleaver-esque resume. "It was, I guess, an average family life." To say that Mack's family was assimilated goes without saying, considering their residence was in a Goose Creek subdivision called Crowfield Plantation.

But Mack's omnivorous visual education began early. The same pop culture elements that continue to influence his work today cropped up in Mack's life early on. He was fascinated with the emerging world of breakdancing and video games, not to mention the formative influence of his father's favorite pop and rock music. His interest in music was also stoked by yearly visits to his cousins in New York. There he would bask in the exciting musical innovations that hadn't yet reached Goose Creek -- found on a Manhattan radio station helmed by a DJ called "Mr. Magic."

Meanwhile, the budding art entrepreneur made pocket change in elementary school by selling his drawings to fellow students. "I would draw Pac-Man and other game characters back in the early '80s. I remember different breakdancing moves like the Windmill that you could do. I'd draw people doing the dance moves, and color them up and sell them for, like, a dollar or two dollars in elementary school."

Mack took his moneymaking ventures up a notch in his teens. When he was 13, his incessant demands for frequent haircuts led his mother to buy him his own pair of clippers. "Start cutting," she told him.

A prodigy with the shears, Mack didn't waste any time practicing this practical art on his own head. "I cut my name in cursive," he recalls. Eventually he was cutting hair for a cross section of his classmates, including members of the football and basketball teams.

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