The Drones, the Paint & the Cinetic Flip

Paintings by Christian McLeod

Essay by John K. Grande

Exhibited at Craig Scott Gallery Oct-Nov. 2008

Rendering visual art truly visual in a time when the assault on our sense comes from varied mediatic sources is not an easy job. Even Marcel Duchamp had fewer objects and less hybrid ones to work with when choosing a readymade than we now have. As one friend recently commented Big Brother doesn’t have to watch us, we are already watching, if not glued to his informational and very visual screen, and the scale is bigger than ever, even of these screens consume more energy, electricity than we would like.

Christian McLeod’s extemporary style lives for the moment and does not seek perfection. As a painter, he challenges the codes of contemporary abstraction, leaving touches of figuration. These works reference visual experience and the realities of a mediatized society. Rather than the codes and canons of abstraction, McLeod’s concrete version of lyrical abstraction sources life now, whether internet, raw environmental and experiential, video or a combination thereof as a multi-form experience. As Martin Mills has commented on McLeod’s Further Unmanned Strategies show, “McLeod likes the blurry, unfocused look of a world polluted by information, where we are never alone.” As reality now exists in our mind’s eye as a stream of images, so McLeod’s paintings encourage a streaming or ongoing sequential distortion. We visually read these works as part of a historical instant, and equally part of a mediatized surround scene we can immediately immerse ourselves in. We are the Gods of our own consumption and we are now eating ourselves.

Charing Cross (2007) builds an amorphous grid-like sequence of blue, black and white spatula and brush work. It almost feels like an overview of a city, or some habitat or other. There are shades of the automatist brushstroke and palette knife work of Paul-Emile Borduas. Stay the Course is even more Borduas-like. The movement implied by the painted spreads of blue, black and white (or a combination thereof) is reminiscent of the British painter Ivon Hitchens, for there is more than a shade of orchestration to this piece. It evokes a near musical build up in areas, resonances elsewhere.

Further Unmanned Strategies (2007) opens up a view only to thicken it up with surface imbroglio of paint and texture. An allusion to a helicopter hanging suspended in this non-world, a non-space, devoid of human content. What are the parameters we read these scenes with? They have not been, and will never be known to us in their entirety, McLeod’s paintings suggest. The war is not with a history of art, but with the current state of history, if it even exists in such a void of absolutism. Suspending (2008), is like an after shot of the same scene we saw in Further Unmanned Strategies. It is an instant later. There is the same painterly surface build up. It’s like a metaphor for visual pollution, an agglomerated confection. The landscape exists as a set, one McLeod paints with a horizontal base to introduce us into the “scene”. That same militarized, spider-like helicopter can be seen, farther to the right now. The heli-insect extends its props into this morass of densified and de-oxygenated atmosphere of paint and surface effect. McLeod uses the surfaces, textures, and builds them to make this an intense visual metaphor for that which obstructs, obscures, deflects… And this scenario enables us to seek another visual path through it all, yet we do not find one. We sense we are alone amid the chaos, the tumult of a world run by drones, machines, codes, and computers, and things we have not even seen.

Passing Over (2008) has a series of repeating and interlocuted grid-like pattern imprints in black build a jumble of impressions while tachiste-like patches of red, with more subtle whites build a jumble of effects. Some of these effects are “imprinted” as if on a map, while still others have been “placed” onto the surface, as a build up of painterly gestures. This painting is almost like a reconnaissance image of the earth seen from above, but it is also suggestive of bombing, of a dense impacting on that surface/map. We see it from above, looking downwards. We can visualize this painting as either pure abstraction or alternatively as visual metaphorical “map”.

The textures in paintings like Passing Over recall Anselm Kiefer’s dense icons, but McLeod’s are less wrapped up in potential and recreated mythologies than they are in the sensation of painting for and of itself. His painting exists in a continuum far less conscious of historical production and what history as a continuum of material artifacts produces. McLeod paints a world of image fragments, objects, sensations, replete with fragments of architecture, light, landforms, military and urban structures. The world he paints is pure poetic and personal, but always immersed in a contextual relation with the senses, how the painter engages his consciousness with the world. The perception transforms via the act of painting. There is a sporadic rhythm to these paintings, and a random chance aspect. The process is always time based, light sensitive, and plays with space in the parentheses that are a paintings surface field.

As a painting, Destroyer (2007) has an impact, a violent imprinting to its configuration. The colours, splayed, diffracted, omnipresent, likewise overwhelm the image of a naval destroyer, whose presence suggests subterfuge, invasion and Empire. The Conversation (2007) again has that impacted sensibility born of militarism and control in an era of so-called globalization. (Where will al that go?) This one is comic relief, almost caricaturing the chaos. There are two epigrammatic areas of disturbance enhanced by a swirl of white. It spews its way around as if devouring the main black dark silhouette that dominates the painting. All this set on an intense red background. This is undoubtedly a mediatized, orchestrated world,that is presented as a so-called reality. We interpret it all, trying to decode what is coded, and arrive at a Mexican stand-off, a juncture of indecision, as if we are informationally saturated, but deprived of any real truth, clues to a future world scenario where we play a role.

Christian McLeod’s paintings capture a kindred atmosphere of space being invaded, that early John Scott paintings once did, when he addressed society, ecology and the body politic with his unintentional unself-conscious art in the 1980s and early 1990s. McLeod’s are less graphic than Scott’s, instead deal with these themes of what space and earth are or can be, who owns these resources – invisible and visible – and how we as a public, perceive their place in our lives, particularly in a world that is mediated, circumscribed, measured, accounted for.

Actions become paintings, reflections become impressions, textures develop, and the syntax of life, which is never contained or boxed in, relies on the accidental, chance-like nature of the painterly gesture, which combines over time, to build an endless dialogue on life in our times, as a painter sees it.

John K. Grande

The author of Intertwining: Landscape, Technology, Issues, Artists (Black Rose Books, 1998), and Art Nature Dialogues: Interviews with Environmental Artists (SUNY Press, 2004), John Grande will be curating Earth Art at the Royal Botanical Gardens in the summer of 2009

( ). John Grande’s Dialogues in Diversity: Art from Marginal to Mainstream was published by Pari Publishing (Italy) in 2007 and Art Allsorts: Wriitngs on Art & Artists was published in November 2008.