Sunday, 22 December 2013

Characters in search of a Painter: meta-theatricality in the art of Robert McLeod

“  I hate symbolic art, for it makes a mechanical structure, an allegory, out of all representation, destroying its spontaneity, reducing the creative impulse to an empty and short-sighted effort; for the mere fact of giving an allegorical meaning to what is being represented indicates that the representation proper is held in low esteem, as having in itself no truth, whether real or imaginary ”.

I recently came across this statement  by Italian dramatist Luigi Pirandello (1867- 1936). It immediately struck me as having some resonance in the work of New Zealand painter Robert McLeod.

Bowen Gallery Show (2004)  and  "Two High-rises - One Foreign"  (2007)

 In recent years, as McLeod’s paintings became increasingly figurative and representational, the theatrical nature of his work has become more overt. First appearing in 1999, Mutant Mickey has been joined by a cast of near-archetypal, disarmingly cartoony props and characters: briefcases, ties, glasses, socks, tartans, Tweety, Popeye, Dandini, The Small Man, The Judge, The Impostor, Graces, Working Girls, Caveman, Banshee, Superhero, The Communicator, Small-Man-in-Thick-Skin, Richter Robot, Blank Face, Paint Gloop Alien, The Immigrant, The Angels, Miley.

"Supporting Partick Thistle", City Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand 2012

"Lanark 86 - Kelvin's Break" at City Gallery ("Supporting Partick Thistle" 2012)  Wellington, New Zealand

"Supporting Partick Thistle", City Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand 2012

"Supporting Partick Thistle", City Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand 2012

Bowen Gallery Show 2004

"Great Moments in the History of Painting"  in the studio (2006)

Studio   2013

Studio  2013

Like Pirandello in his controversial 1921 play “Six Characters in Search of an Author”, McLeod resists interpretive readings of his work, subverting the characters' stories to his own script, the greater narrative of Painting.  His complex, layered compositions leave any search for meaning at a loose end, any narrative indeterminate. He uses meta-theatrical devices to break the conventional relationship to the audience. Out of the frame, off the wall, onto the floor: characters push and twerk against the picture plane, spill into the room and invade the viewers’ haptic space.  Flaunting their pedigree in Automatic Surrealism, Cubism and Abstract Expressionism these tableaux tauntingly claim for Painting a territory traditionally occupied by Sculpture and Installation.

"Mixing Different Heavens"   Tauranga Art Gallery, New Zealand,  2012

" Imposters, Aliens and Angels"   Pataka Art Museum, New Zealand,   2013

" Imposters, Aliens and Angels"   Pataka Art Museum, New Zealand,  2013

McLeod uses drawing as a way back into painting when he is feeling stuck. In his recent large drawings he has made a surprising and tantalizing move: In front of dynamically graphic, black-and-white drawings are hung some of his colourful puppet-like creations.

Studio  December 2013

Studio  December  2013

Composed of fabric, wire, paper and painted plywood elements, these hybrid, emergent creatures hang in a state of suspended animation, poised both in and out of the scene, waiting for The Painter to make his next life-giving move.

Studio  December 2013   and Rob in the Studio 2012

Some Links:
Paul Nache Gallery (Gisborne, New Zealand)
Dandini Comes Clean  (book)
Dandini Comes Clean  (book designer's blog)
Bath Street Gallery (Auckland, New Zealand)
Small Works Gallery (Brisbane, Australia)
The Weekend Edition  (Brisbane, May 2013)
City Gallery Wellington  ("Supporting Partick Thistle"  2012)
The Dominion  (June 2012)
The Big Idea  (July 2012)
Daily Serving  (August 2012)
Tauranga Art Gallery  ("Mixing Different Heavens"  2012)
Pataka Art Museum  ("Imposters, Aliens and Angels"  2013)
The Dominion  (June 2013)
Christchurch Art Gallery  (Bulletin May 2013)
Michael Reid Gallery  ( Sydney, Australia, 2012 show)
Michael Reid Gallery  ("Small Man's Problems" pdf 2012)
Australian Art Sales Digest 
Real Art Roadshow  (David Eggleton, pdf: "Nasty Surprise 1" )
Real Art Roadshow  (Aaron Lister, pdf:  "Small Painter")
Real Art Roadshow  (YouTube interview)
Radio New Zealand (interview 4 June 2011)
artnews New Zealand  (profile 2011)
one small seed  (Meet Mutant Mickey  2011)
An Orange in a Fried Fish Shop  (book)
Museum of New Zealand  (Collections Online)
Auckland Art Gallery   (Collection)  

Sardine Can Angels   and   "Bap's Angel"  2013

all photographs copyright Robert McLeod

Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Secret Life of Buildings

I'm reposting this from a previous blog as
it engages a theme which is on-going in my work: spirit of place (genius loci).

It’s not often I fall in love with a building. But after four years I’m still smitten by the extensions  to the State Library of Queensland.

Among many ingenious architectural devices employed by the designers is one which continues to engage my curiosity: a somewhat mysterious ‘billboard’  which fulfills several pragmatic functions (screen, shelter, edge, space-and place-maker). But in place of the expected advertising it displays a stylized botanical pattern reminiscent of wall-paper. The multiple scales of this apparent decoration are perhaps a clue to decoding significance. ‘Ceci n’est pas une publicité’ , this is not an ad, it’s anything you want it to be.

I made this video as part of my ongoing engagement with the hidden layers of urban places. It explores ideas about collective memory.

I have composited time-lapse footage of the State Library of Queensland with footage from the Brisbane Writers Festival which is held here annually.

For a few moments the veil lifts, the usual pattern fades, the billboard becomes a screen for the projection of layered collective memories of events which have happened here.
“Real time” is de-saturated and becomes erratic outside the frame of remembered time.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Art and Empathy

This week I visited the Sunshine Coast Art Prize 2D at Caloundra Regional Gallery (in Queensland, Australia).

SCAP 2D 2013 at Caloundra Regional Gallery

More than in other un-themed exhibitions I was struck by the wide range of art on show: from wildly gestural abstraction to minutely detailed realism, from pattern to politics. Such shows demand a lot of the viewer, not least the capacity to re-imagine each work within the context of it’s own genre. This is why I'm usually a slow-viewer, lingering in galleries for hours, if not whole days. To my surprise this time I found myself by-passing some works as déja-trop-vu while unexpectedly gravitating towards others.

Celeste Chandler, Lee Lombardi and L.M Noonan suggestively question and subvert links between (self) portraiture and identity. Donna Malone poignantly evokes the ephemeral nature of human presence through absence. Mitch Lang creates a memorable image of the increasingly common feeling of being “at sea” in our world. And Ray Coffey’s portrait becomes near-devotional through it’s unsentimental clarity and directness.

different approaches to conveying empathy: Ray Coffey and Celeste Chandler

Half an hour later I left the gallery still mystified but determined to shine some light on just what was resonating for me in certain works. So I decided to resurrect this blog as a place to articulate my experiences of Art...and through writing this, my question has answered itself: the common link between these works for me is their ability to evoke empathy for our humanity.