Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Friday, April 24, 2009

McLeod matters

Andrew McLeod: Ocean
Ivan Anthony
1 April - 23 April 2009

We have here a varied range of oil paintings (and one digital print) from this Auckland artist - among them a few surprises. The very recent McLeod paintings are interesting in that they show a moving away from the playschool, Killeen influenced, ambience of earlier works, towards a more sensual, lush painting.In other words, they are less illustrative, being instead Romantic, elemental and other worldly. Very physical. They have a sweeping, immersive rawness, mostly without his 'normal' finicky, anal fastidiousness. They are very dramatic, particularly the images of the sea, and indicate a serious interest in the paintings of the German artist Arnold Böcklin (1827 -1901).

I find these images of McLeod’s intriguing. I warm to them more than his other paintings – this is surprising for I personally don’t like Böcklin’s work very much. I find it somewhat histrionic. McLeod’s images though have a gruntiness and comparative roughness which I enjoy. And the symbolic content doesn’t seem in earnest. McLeod here loves drama. It is the blatant theatricality and hammy humour he is going for (er, this is what I assume), and it works.

Placed in the same rooms though are the odd, very small geometric paintings he has been doing for some time – modernist works influenced by LeWitt, Vasarely, Albers and others. These experiments in reductive geometry and perspective are humorous too, because of their extravagantly ornate frames, not because of the geometry. Ostentatious and vulgar the incompatible borders are perversely placed around the dynamic geometry so that many viewers (like myself) grind their teeth. The format is maddeningly irritating, for the distracting frames set out to obliterate the carefully designed spatial contents of the internal canvases.

In that sense they are funny – if you get amusement from seeing an exemplary talent like McLeod mock his own compositional abilities. Yet this artist always has enjoyed excess and plentitude. Modernist restraint and understatement are not something he happens to empathise with. His ratbag hybridity – in his own terms (not mine) – makes a lot of sense.

(McLeod images above, except for bottom three from Bocklin.)

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