Christian McLeod: Passing Over

Gallery Page & Strange, Halifax

Essay by John K Grande

Published in Vie des Arts.
No 219, © 2010 [ English Edition]

For his latest show at Page & Strange, Christian McLeod updates the codes of contemporary abstraction in referencing the visual realities of a mediatized society. Rather than following the codes and canons of abstraction, McLeod brings a new energy to abstraction, drawing on and mixing a range of sources like the internet, raw environmental and experiential phenomena, digital screen imaging and video for his art. This new abstract visuality in this multi-layered approach to experience is comparable to what sonic collage artists now do with music.

We sense a great distancing, even disembodiment at times from sources, the result of the real world diversity of an evolving “global” culture where GPS, satellite observation, and remote sensing infrared are just part of the new visualization of our relation to space and place. In this sense, McLeod’s paintings touch on some of the same sources as Peter Doig’s art does. That said, McLeod is first and foremost a rough ’n ready painter, with all that entails. The latest offering of eleven oil on canvas paintings make it evident that McLeod is not afraid to test the boundaries, codes and cues of what surface, form or even composition are in the unframed territories of today’s world.

A vivid red canvas titled Control Room (2009), gives us the feeling that we are looking over a landscape that has been divided into grids as if we were in a tower, the lone guardians or controllers of this ambiguous vision. The surface hatchings, scrapes, brushstrokes and random markings bring it all to life, and make this painting work as an abstract, even as it visually reads as a post-mediatic landscape set in some tentative future world or landscape of the imagination. The same goes for Central Station (2009), another vivid red abstract. A dark mass in the lower section of the piece breaks into a panoply of tachiste-like effusions of paint. It is as if the darkness were part of a centralized generator whose machinery and mechanisms endlessly “function”. For all this, here is a painting that “functions as an abstract regardless of any hypothetical scenario.

As McLeod comments on these new works, “Painting is my way of remembering and interpreting beauty and destruction. I begin by viewing reality as composed of layers of colour and shape, observing the way light reflects off an object, and the tension objects generate when placed next to or on top of each other. Landscapes from a great distance become a single object. I try to capture the shift between perceiving the landscape as an organic whole, and seeing the particles that comprise it. I operate in that gap between abstraction and representation, between the bird’s-eye view and the microscope.”

River (2010) and Harbour (2009) as their titles suggest reference nature, but we cannot read them in any literal sense as nature paintings. Harbour with its deep resonant blues and whites, recalls Paul-Emile Borduas’ superb automatiste expressions that some claim were influenced by the northern landscapes of Quebec. There are rhythms, swoops and splashes, then areas of colour that smear in a swath, but there is no attempt at lyricism here. The paintings break into chunks at times, as if there were obstacles to a pure unadulterated vision or aesthetic, and this experiential journey makes Harbour very of our times. River likewise evolves a consciousness dug out of the depths of the modernist experience, and there is a beauty to the receding particles and dabs, markings of colours red, green, blue, yellow. The painting “builds” its form into a shape, as a collectivity of microcosmic colour sensations. The shape is a “harbour” of the artist’s own invention, and a sky and green land mass can be visualized in the upper section of the canvas.

Flood Gates (2008-2010) builds vertical blocks of dark blue and black abstract zones that could be flood gates atop another style of floating, very painterly and illusory colour. Zones of disturbance disrupt our assumptions about beauty all through this show, and this is intriguing. Addressing the state of our world, Passing Over as a show is also about the act of painting in our times.

Passing Over (2008-2009) generates a jumble of impressions. 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, or it could suggest a dense impacting on that surface/map as if it had been bombed and like Control Room we see it from above, looking downwards.

The textures are less wrapped up in potential and recreated mythologies than they are in the sensation of painting for and of itself.   McLeod paints a world of image fragments, objects, sensations, replete with fragments of architecture, light, landforms, military and urban structure. He is a painter whose process is about consciousness engaged with the real world of perception whatever the source.

John K. Grande

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 curated 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.