Art Essays

Euan Macleod: The Shadow Line

Published May 22, 2012

Euan Macleod may be a landscape painter but it often seems as if the physical world is not his principle focus. Although he may stand for hours painting en plein air; although his pictures may reflect the recognisable features of a particular place, Macleod’s true subject is to be found within his own mind.
The paintings completed in Port Macquarie last year are entirely consistent with the works the artist has made in diverse locations over the past decade. This includes such radically different environments as New Zealand, the central Australian desert, and Antarctica. Each series has its own distinctive palette and atmosphere, but we encounter the same figure of the anonymous painter at work on a canvas. He is more than a silhouette but less than a portrait. He is constructed with vigorous swathes of the brush, his limbs modelled by sunlight. The edges of his body are slightly blurred, suggesting the rapidity with which he is working.
Although some of these figures may be based on another person, in this case, the artist Pavel Lankas who accompanied Macleod on his painting expeditions, we are ultimately looking at a shadow that acts as the artist’s doppelgänger. One thinks of writers such as Shelley and Goethe, who had experiences in which they encountered their own images. Shelley’s double even spoke to him, asking: “How long do you mean to be content?”
Macleod’s shadow is a deliberate fiction rather than a hallucination, but it testifies to the artist’s deep-rooted need to stand back from his work and his own subjectivity. In this series Macleod not only shows us the landscape near Port Macquarie, he depicts himself as part of that landscape. He is not giving us a window onto the world, but a version of an environment as filtered through a consciousness.
This filter inevitably leaves traces of its own preoccupations. For instance, the dinghy floating close to a rocky headland is a familiar motif in Macleod’s work. It has immediate associations with the dinghy in which he and his late father traversed Lyttelton Harbour during his New Zealand childhood.
Macleod also imprints his moods onto the landscape, with the solitary rock in the ocean possibly corresponding to his own sense of human life – as a lonely outcrop buffeted by the waves of experience. This may sound lugubrious but few activities are as solitary as painting. Even if one is working alongside other artists the picture on the easel demands one’s undivided attention.
There is an implicit drama in these deceptively casual studies of the land, sky and ocean. The speed and looseness of Macleod’s brushstrokes give little indication of the concentration that underlies each picture. It is only as we grow more familiar with his work, and his working methods, that we become aware Macleod’s observations are channeled through a very deep well of memories before emerging onto canvas. Over time, we begin to see those landscapes from the shadow’s point-of-view.
Glasshouse Regional Gallery, Port Macquarie, 22 May -24 June, 2012