These are the words of Christian McLeod, the artist currently based in Toronto: ‘Painting is my way of remembering and interpreting beauty and destruction.’ When you look at his canvases covered in powerful abstraction, it’s easy to see how strongly this mindset comes through. McLeod has lived and worked in Mexico and Germany, and initially, after graduating from the Toronto School of Art in 1992, he first moved to Spain where he exhibited in Ibiza. Today, McLeod is back living in Toronto with his son, where he has his studio, a live work storefront. In addition to an extensive CV, McLeod’s work can be found internationally in numerous private collections as well as home in Toronto, such as his piece ‘Ports Land’ on permanent display at the Ale House.
When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
Growing up in a household full of art and artists all around me, there were creative actions, experimentation in how we ate, how we lived, what we did. Thinking back now, I was about seven, and we were living in West Germany, and traveled to East Berlin to visit a family friend who was a playwright and actor. He would leave every day and come home and tell me about his day working as ‘an artist’. This gave me the beginnings of wanting to work as a creative person, but it was later in my teens that I knew.
I met Alex Jarman in Art School in the early 90’s. Alex has an aunt who was living in the island of Ibiza, one of the Balearic Islands. His aunt and her husband drove a renovated ambulance-turned-camper van from England to Ibiza back in the late 1960’s, and the van died in the driveway of an old finca (farmhouse). They moved in and never left. Alex had been there the year before, and after hearing a story or two about his time there on the island, he only had to ask me once if I wanted to go over and set up a studio there.
How would you describe your work, what you do?
According to my official artist’s statement: I capture the shift between perceiving the landscape as an organic whole, and seeing the particles that comprise it – buildings, rivers, vehicles, birds, harbours, roadways, minerals, machinery, aircraft, farms, data and people in movement.
Inspiration can come from many places, but is there someplace specific that yours comes from?
My inspiration is two-fold: one is observing change, destruction, and re-birth; the second is to re-inform or express ‘nature’ or ‘action’ in an individual way. I see a direct link to immortality via the alchemical aspects of paint and the act of painting. To create something beautiful or powerful or important out of nothing… that inspires me.
How important is it, in your opinion, to travel in conjunction with creating art?
It’s the world around us that gives us the vibrations of life, the reason and inspiration to create. This is why art is life and life is art. It’s not something that is turned off and on at will. Though, there is a space between the two, where artists congregate.
Why the medium of oil paint?
Floating particles of pigment in oil, light bouncing around and reflecting in all directions… what’s not to like? Oil paints hold their individual colour and interact with each other slowly and with patience. They stay true to their values even as they dry. They give you time to contemplate and work with them and build your surface.
Is there any other medium you enjoy working with?
Photography combined with elements of sculpture and digital manipulations, processed as prints; land-based sculpture with found objects.
What draws you to the treatment of subjects and ideas as abstraction?
I feel we are in ongoing dialogue with abstraction and have been for much longer than we realize. It is a huge realm of possibilities and works itself into many aspects of life. There is freedom in abstraction and room for the individual’s fingerprint on both things fascinating and common.
What message do you most strive to communicate with your work?
The balance of beauty is always in a constant state of change and should be recognized and celebrated.
How would you describe your creative process?
What does your work mean to you?
Immortality, freedom, exploration, snippets of time, memories, snap shots, calling cards to wake up and become aware, to see things in a new light.
Art can take on so many meanings for different people; how do you personally define ‘art’?
By living my life. I look to reveal the unseen, the unobserved; we develop our own language over a lifetime to achieve this.
Any plans to move again in the future?
Yes, for sure. I will be back in Spain soon enough. There are a few places I’ve never been to that I’m looking forward to exploring, but I must admit I feel deep down that Canada will always be my home. I love the seasons too much; it’s what I know best, it’s what I love best.
Do you have a favourite stylistic period in the history of art?
Dada and Abstract Expressionism, Natural Abstraction. Painting is the ultimate freedom and that’s what I am seeking.
If you could sit down to coffee with any artist, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Marcel Duchamp, Nicolas de Stael, and Joan Mitchell; but on different days, and at different tables.
How do you feel about the current art community in Toronto?
Seems to be big and flashy these days… lots going on. If it is important to the community to be recognized worldwide, I think we are still working on that.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
Be careful what you wish for. Without belief there is no art.
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
You will have to come and see…I have a couple of solo painting exhibitions coming up in Toronto at ‘La Parete Gallery’ and ‘The Al Green Gallery’, and also a group exhibition this September at ‘Airship 37’. I will be showing a very large-scale canvas: Further Explorations of the ‘Tag Cloud, sections 14’. I also have a photo project on the go that will incorporate object printing when it’s all said and done.