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Euan Mcleod, Painter


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This is a copy of a Seminar I presented to my Diploma class on Friday 27th April 2012. …

This is a copy of a Seminar I presented to my Diploma class on Friday 27th April 2012.
he interested me for a number of reasons, not the least , he is a largely traditional oil painter, but taking that into a contemporary context.We were asked to look at his work in relationship to our own, commonality and differences

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  • Hi , I am Mike Nixon, I’ve been interested in art for about 23 years now, having completed a Foundation Studies in Art in 1989 at AUT in Auckland.IntroductionEaunMcleod is my painter of choice, as it turns out, there's 6 degrees of separation between him and me ,many connections apart from the more obvious ones I picked. Just one connection is my aunt is friends with his mother, and has one of her beautiful water colors on her wall.I chose a photo of his prize winning painting “Head like a Hole” to represent him, rather than a conventional photo, as his work is very much about inner worlds than outer, and I doubt whether he would be a painter seeking personal recognition, apart from recognition for his paintings. I was initially attracted to chose him both for his use of paint, and the fact he crossed the Tasman to seek his fame and fortune, but he never really cut his ties as I hope to show, memory persists, a key concept about his work.There is several other ideas I will introduce Idealogy and Self-PortraitsThe Figurative and the PhysicalThe Physical and the MetaphysicalThe Figure and Landscape in NZSymbolism of the Figure and MemoryMetaphysics and LandscapeMemory of LandscapeUse of Symbols.
  • Here is a more conventional photo, It used to be there was stereotypes of an artist , the beret, the painters smock, oil painter or water colorist. These days , a painter like McLeod is just as likely to be found wearing sports gear. Or conventional formal gear to an opening. The management of persona is a very personal choice.
  • Highly edited biography just some key points1976 : Qualified as a graphic artist and worked for 1 year in that field prior to starting a Fine Arts degree.1977-79 : Developed as an artist under people like Ted Bracey, who encouraged him to look at painters like Dienbenkorn. Strong structural elements but abstracted.For him, the figurative was always going to play a major role in his paintings, and in this way he felt he had failed his tutors1981 : The move to Australia is one aspect of his life that really interested me. And for some of the same reasons as McLeod.When he arrived, most of the painters where conceptual, whereas painting is what McLeod lives for He felt there was a niche through a much bigger audience for him to be a painter,and enough galleries interested in his paintings to sell them. Also for McLeod , the move as become an important narrative in his work. The ideas behind his work are not tied to a geographical location, he is not a landscape painter, of the empty landscape genre. His landscapes are playing with and illustrating inner worlds. And by this, I mean that which is not visible physically. The visual language he uses to talk about his world view, is one of symbols, particularly his trademark figure in the landscape.. My attraction to his work initially was from the way he uses paint, but later I realised there was something else that attracted me, that only this year have I been able to articulate a little verbally and visually. All these points I will expand on further and illustrate with examples of his work.2000 : I included this date as maybe the point where Australians are proud to claim McLeod as their own. We can see from the recognition that he recieves in Australia, that his ideas have crossed physical boundaries and speak to people of several nationalities
  • Looking again at his winning self-portrait, we can see a number of distinguishing features of his work and ideology .I want to introduce several key ideas about his work and some of my own by using this painting.1.Expressionist painter - Clearly not a realistic painter , he leaves his brushstrokes visible, and cleverly uses them to model the form of face. .He is working with oil paint and usually on canvas, McLeod is surprised at his success despite working in what is still seen by some people and institutions in the art world as a decidedly old-fashioned medium. He has a good command of drawing skills underlying his painting, but works in a very physical way with the paint.2.Structure - His head dominating the landscape, this painting has a strong structure due to the horizontal horizon line and the verticals of the face. 3.Scale- The scale of the face dominates the picture frame. In relationship to landscape elements ,occupying a space neither in the landscape nor out of it .Part of it ,in fact. 4.Symbols – The sharks swimming in circles are ominous , perhaps a sign of danger of some sort or the other. Water is an important element in this picture, , a symbol of the unconscious in this context and points to both psychological and metaphysical concerns. And perhaps a location in time and space across the water between NZ and Australia.We also see McLeods trademark figure striding towards the sharks , is it unaware of the danger ?So what is meant by metaphysical ?.These thoughts from Elva Bett , “An artist with metaphysical leanings acquires a sense of things beyond the obvious. A sensed rather than a seen reality. Beyond the painted objects there remains a sense of the inexplicable, the atmospheric spirit transmitted to invade the space outside the picture frame”. These metaphysical leanings something I have in common with McLeod, arrived at through different experiences , but there all the same.
  • Mcleods Head like a Hole painting is a self-portrait , my own of 2006 could places me in the same area , although my style is not like McLeods expressive paint technique. However my self-portraits is also less about my external persona , more about my inner life. This is the true power of portraiture for me, over realistic depictions, although equally valid.The other difference from Mcleod, is I didn’t at the time , have the complex use of personal symbols that McLeod has at his disposal, some of which I will talk about later, like the rowing boat. My self-portrait of 2009 possibly has more affinity with McLeods Head like a Hole, possibly even more abstracted in some respects but more realistic in others. There is no doubt that McLeod can actually do recognisable portraits but the figure central to his work is devoid of detail , perhaps only recognisably male in its skeletal structure.
  • This painting Barrowman, depicts a figure walking the length of the South Island pushing a heavy load, evidenced by the piled up wheelbarrow, and the bent over figure .This is an introduction to Mcleods archetypal figure, stripped naked , barefoot and bent over by its burden in this depiction.The burden may in fact be memory. Both pictured metaphorically in the wheelbarrow, and stored physically In the body, as a manifestation of that memory. Memory may have physical imprints in the body, right down to cellular level according to B.K.S Iyenger, a yoga practitioner and teacher. My work Crouching Figure .is more about energy in the body.McLeods figure, it has been labeled Everyman, is largely monochromatic , and devoid of color.This is a monoprint I did in 2008, for me looking back, there are some similarities with Mcleods work, this figure is also burdened, but it’s a burden of energy, potential energy. My figure is unlike Mcleods figure in that its lit from within, transparent perhaps. Mcleods figure is lit by a harsh light, perhaps early morning or late evening , a time of transition to or from sleep states.
  • There sometimes is a physicality of McLeods work, not difficult to feel the steam , the fecund mass in the wheelbarrow. Look at how the steam envelopes the head , we may be lead to believe that the intellect will lead us on, but this figure is engaged in a bodily lead task, it doesn’t matter that the figure can’t see where they are going.The steam is an indication of the heat of the mass in the wheelbarrow, it leads the figure on perhaps, the richness of memory, the energy in it
  • The huamn figure in art has a long history, possibly before the word art was invented. It is an important element in McLeods work, possibly his most distinguishing feature .The figure in a landscape, is an area of relatively recent interest in NZ, given the earlier tradition of the empty landscape, or very scaled down figures , in relationship to a much larger and vast landscape. McLeod is not the only painter of his era of the 60’s 70’s to investigate and use the motif of the figure in the landscape.Tony Fomison is just one painter whos work also has figurative elements and also clearly achieved great recognition in the end.We also have people covering similar painting territory in NZ like Elizabeth Rees. WhenMcleod was educated at Ilam , abstraction ruled. The figurative along with painting was not seen as modern.Unlike Australia where there is a long history of figurative work and portrait painting. However in the contemporary NZ world , there is people like Francis Upritchard who has just had a figurative work installed in Auckland. I believe you have to have a good deal of confidence or interest , to tackle the figurative, in this respect I have years of life drawing behind me, and a sense of how the body moves or not, through similar time practising yoga. After a while, you also have a sense of your body moving through space, and know where it is, called proprioception, enabling you to perform complex balancing poses. That is an inner perception working at a very subtle level of the physical. All the artists I have mentioned are depicting what yogic philosophy called the gross level of the physical, to talk about subtle levels of being for want of a better word.
  • On the left is a drawing I did to investigate ideas of large human scale drawing .In the middle is a painting I did for the Faith in Art competition 2001,.But I wanted to touch also on ideas of memory and idealogy .In McLeods Barrowman, his figure is looking down, earthly concerns ? The heavy burden being memory ?. In my case, I tend to picture the figure looking up , to the heavens, to take a christian point of view .Transcending the body and bodily suffering, although again this is a christian point of view, yogic philosophy although acknowledging suffering, sees the body as a temple, a place of worship, not in a vain sense, but as a vehicle to be used, honed and refined in the search for enlightenment.From a visual point of view, my drawing shows the feet hovering above the horizon line. In McLeods’ Barrowman, the horizon line is almost at head height, the figure is bound to the earth, although doing a supernatural task, described as moving australian soil the length of the South Island. Perhaps towards Christchurch where McLeod was educated, an attempt to “move” some of the Australian intellectual capital to Christchurch to enlighten them ?. In terms of scale , all these figures dominate the landscape .In terms of lighting, my drawing is lit from above, the middle painting is lit from above and below , and Mcleods is a harsh directional light on his back, casting a long shadow , that would only occur in nature in the morning or at dusk. memory.Yogicphilospophy believes that memory is stored in the body as well as the conventional western view its somehow stored in the brain .Mcleods figure is looking down
  • This painting is comprised of 8 panels each 1100 mm high and a combined length of 6m.Its about memory of a place , the format being like a series of slides, presumably to be read from left to right. Often ,there is a supernatural view, of say the room, and the basement underneath it The figure in the first painting is typically for McLeods work, walking or striding ,perhaps its the going back to this memory , like you could walk back into childhood if time machines existed. In the first painting are shadow like figure beneath the surface of the sea . These are memory's of a childhood place , stored and then retrieved many years later, perhaps unresolved memories .What also attracted me is a statue of a striding figure, is this the younger McLeod ?, the childhood Mcleod , it seems a menacing and lonely place , like an interrogation room.In the last panel, the figure stands still. Its like time is standing still, its back to McLeods more common scale of figure, A statement of place and time.In the next slide I will look a bit closer again at this paintings construction.8 x 2 is very much about memory, of a childhood spent in Lyteton Harbour , closed up baches, or cribs as they are called in the South.
  • This is a panel from the previous 8 x 2 series . The figure and the division between the surface of the water ,form a cross. Again we see the figure very much part of the landscape but with his head bisected by the seas horizon line. What he has depicted , is similar to a view sometimes seen when an underwater camera is ½ submerged, so there is a view underwater and over water.The light appears to come from the horizon, but also behind the figure, a supernatural light .Its a unusual treatment of the figure, elongated .Perhaps it could be said, his head is in one place,the physical , body in another two planes of existence. ”real physical world” and “underworld”, land of dreams and visions, night time .
  • This painting is one of several Mcleod has done in the category of the painter in the painting. The painting the figure is working on is of Lyttelton Harbour, but it is obviously set in the Australian outback. Because the painters has his back to us, its like being invited in to a scenerio.The painter is stripped naked , a scrawny sinewy figure. Perhaps reduced to an elemental state by the sheer difficulty of his task, the painters life is not an easy one, often through uncharted territory , taking an enormous amount of physical, emotional and psychic energy. Mcleods area , with its strong reflective quality, and use of complex memory and psychology, demands an honesty that strips one close to the bone. Its this element I find interesting , and food for thought.
  • The key to understanding some of Mcleods work is understanding the relationship he had with his father. By all accounts his father was a frustrated individual , forced by circumstances into vocations that just didn’t fit .For him, boats were a source of freedom, time out , when he could be by himself and refresh himself in the elements. For Mcleod, the sad thing, but ultimately something he was able to use as a source of strength, was his father had Alzeimers. Within 3 years it got to the point where he was not able to distinguish an inanimate object for anything else. Theres some parallels in Euans decisions about the direction his life would take and what was happening with his father. His father appears to have been diagnosed with Alzeheimers around the time Euan was graduating in 1979. Two years later he moved to Australia, effectively leaving his father behind . His father however died in 1993.
  • These works were completed around the period that Eauns father died in 1993 , his way I guess of processing some of the feelings around his father death, after what has been described as a living death , for so long.
  • These are some examples of work I did before my own father died in 2008, essentially exploring some of the some territory as McLeod.These are quite personal depictions, whereas Mcleods work takes his relationship with his father into a wider context. For Mcleod , I almost gather his memory of his father , has a sense of the numinous about it .Mcleods coming to terms with his fathers memory, is more than art therapy, more than psychological work, its what I have always had faith in art , the power to heal but also to destroy in some cases. Mcleods, by symbolising his relationship with his father, is turning it into a spiritual quest, a journey.
  • The rowing boat is a symbol that often appears in Euans work, it’s a symbol of both a container , and a device for travel, Also a intermediary between the elements , air and water.In terms of being a container, for Mcleod, it appears to be a container for memory, childhood memory , it carries a strong psychic load for McLeod,being associated with his father.Of course his father loved boats, and in fact built quite a substantial keeler in their living room .Here the rowing boat is pictured stranded in the desert, a stranding of memory ,but possibly bringing a NZ memory to Australia.Its hard to work out whether the figure is looking towards us or the cliffs. The oar is not needed in this context, but carried all the same, where it is like a talisman. Sometimes McLeod pictures his figure carrying the rowboat, it appears to be a heavy weight , a burden , as memory of the past can be , a heavy load if those are memories we would rather forget. As it was for me when I was 12 ,as I was involved in an boating accident where my friends mothers drowned.I was in the water with her, trying to rescue her, all I could do is be with her, as it turned out she had a pre-existing heart condition , my only positive contribution was to stay with her until we were rescued, some way away from the boat. It’s a source of some pain where a body is not found, and with the currents along the kapitit coast, she could have drifted for days or forever without being found . So a rowing boat was a symbol of death , associated with death, but at the same time opened a door to the unknown,a different world view , a world without time. So for me death has always been ever present, its only recently I unburdened myself of this memory ( to put this in a McLeod context), through reframing and talking about it more. I see our task, although some people like myself feel this more keenly, to make sense and meaning of an ever changing world. Memory can be either a curse or a blessing, Mcleod’s work is one view of this, giving it meaning , in the context of a journey.
  • Here the boat is used like a sheild,a protection from the elements, perhaps carrying memory on ones back.
  • ConclusionEuanMcleod is a painter who had the confidence to not just follow his feelings about the best place for his eventual success, but used the very journey to get there as raw material for that journey. Using traditional materials , he took his work in original directions , the expressive power of the figurative element taking his work beyond the personal , into an area that speaks to people of two countries .The act of walking itself can be a meditative and religious experience .His figure invites us into his landscape , to perhaps contemplate the bigger questions he poses, personal symbology, memory , relation to landscape .Or you can just enjoy the rich luscious paint application , your call.However for me , the key to Mcleods work, has been the relationship he had, and still has , with his father. Although there is the smell of death about some of his works, theres regeneration there as well .He touches and has touched on some fundamental truths, walking along a path of some of our greatest painters who explored themes of faith and hope. The phrase that springs to mind for me is a Christian one “the father, the son, and the holy ghost “,somehow through doing this work ,its illuminated this .His faith in art shows us the power in art , to make sense of the world and regenerate ourselfs, an artist can reach into the fundamental areas of human existence, pluck out the goods , and return , renewing himself and us in the journey.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Euan McLeod - Painter. Born in Christchurch in 1956
    • 2. Euan Mcleod with winning entry BlakePrize for Religious Art 2009
    • 3. Biography• 1956 Born in Christchurch, NZ.• 1977-79 Diploma of Fine Arts (Painting) Canterbury University.• 1981 Moves to Sydney, works in Australian Museum.• 1982 First solo show, Watter Gallery, Sydney. First Solo exhibition in New Zealand, at Bowen Gallery, Wellington.• 1997 Painting lecturer at National Art School, Sydney.This continues until 2009.• 1999 Wins Archibald Award for portraiture with his painting, Head like a Hole.• 2000 Work is included in Australian Biennale, Canberra.
    • 4. Idealogy : Self -Portrait Head Like a Hole 1999 Oil on Canvas, 137 x 180cm 4
    • 5. Self PortraitsSelf Portrait 200651 x 64cm acrylic on paper Self Portrait 2009 50 x 63cm oil on board 5
    • 6. The Figurative And the Physical Barrowman 2007 Crouching Figure 2008Oil on Canvas ,132 x 124cm monoprint 36 x 50cm
    • 7. Physicality and FigureWheelbarrowman 2007. Oil on canvas 1720 x 1880mm 7
    • 8. Figure And Landscape in NZ Tony Fomison The Fugitive ,1980-82. Oil on hessian on board, 122 x 183cmElizabeth Rees Figure III , 2003.Oil on Canvas 455 x 454mm 8
    • 9. Symbolism of the Figure and Memory Mike Nixon, Uplifted, 2001. Eaun Mcloud Barrowman 2007 Oil on canvas, 90 x 90cm Oil on Canvas ,132 x 124cmMike Nixon, Untitled, 2008. 9Charcoal on paper, 2m x 50cm
    • 10. Memory8 x 2 2004 ,Oil on Canvas, 110 x 600cm
    • 11. Metaphysics and Landscape
    • 12. Memory of LandscapeBlue Landscape in Red Painting 2007 Oil on Canvas ,137 x 180cm
    • 13. Symbols : The Father and Rowing BoatRoy Mcleod, Lyttelton Boatman 2 ,2005Harbour, 1940s. 13 .Oilon canvas, 120 x 84cm.
    • 14. Symbols : The FatherRemembrance (Blue) 1993-94. Remembrance (Yellow) 1993-94.Oil on canvas, 77.5 x 112cm Oil on canvas, 77.5 x 112cm 14
    • 15. Symbols : The FatherNixon Family, 1967,Raumati South Father & Son, 2006. pastel on paper . 40 x 50cm My Father and I, 1966,Naenae My Father, 2006. pastel on paper , 40 x 40cm 15
    • 16. Symbols : The Rowing Boat Boat in desert, 2010 .Oil on canvas 191 x 142cm 16
    • 17. Symbols : The Rowing Boat Turtle 2008. 17 Oil on canvas,124 x 100cm
    • 18. ConclusionTwo-in-a-boat(one-standing)2007. Oil on Canvas, 100 x 124cm 18
    • 19. BibliographyDan Chappall, P72-75. Art New Zealand , Autumn 2012,Matrix Publishing LTDElizabeth Caughy, P86-89, Contemporary New Zealand Art5. David Bateman Ltd 2008.Gregory O’Brien,Euan McLeod- The Painter in the Painting,Piper Press 2010.Elva Bett, New Zealand Art – A Modern PerspectiveReed Methuen Publishers 1986