Essay by Steve Rockwell – dART International &

Featured in Artoronto

Particle Collisions is an apt name for Christian McLeod’s paintings at the Al Green Gallery in Toronto. For some time now McLeod’s pigment-laden canvases have conveyed a restless geology, the pulverizing of forms that speak of the forces of nature at a perpetual gallop. It would be a misnomer to label these works as abstract, since that would suggest something rarified, etherial and remote, which these paintings are insistently not.

The roots of McLeod’s impulse to paint digs deep into the soil of the primitive. His stance as “an outsider within an outsider culture” betrays a cocky defiance against the grain of the institutionalized academia of video and installation art. As he says of his joining the fray of art-making in the 80s and 90s, “It was kind of punk to be working in this ancient discipline!”

McLeod is not alone in mining territory staked by the German artist Gerhard Richter. When comparisons are made, however, similarities are out-stripped by stubborn differences. The tracks that blare through the scrapes and gouges of the pigment are distinctly Canadian. The sound we pick up is ice, water, freezing, melting, and the abrasive weathering by endless cycles of summer and winter, that pummel the Canuck landscape into an unyielding submission. Painting dons the uniform of combat, when greens bruise into reds and the frost crackles over navy ground like artillery fire.

To his credit, there is nothing serially programmatic about McLeod’s oeuvre. When the same furrow isn’t ploughed twice, the promise of the yield is freshness. In that sense, the artist arches to the restlessness of the explorer over the settler. The Forest, Frozen Particles, Arrival, The Beginning, Rain Bird, Myth, The Crossing, The Forest and the Trees, and Before the Crossing are a sampling of McLeod’s painterly “yield” over the past year or so. If the painting titles suggest a blunt literalness, the works themselves are open-ended and expansive. It’s all that we would expect from “the particle physicist of Canadian art.”

*Exhibition information: March 20 “ April 26, 2014, The Al Green Gallery, 64 Merton Street, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tues “ Sat 12 “ 5 p.m.