I was looking forward to meeting Alex McLeod in his studio to witness an inglorious mess of creative detritus from his fiberglass and epoxy constructions. It does mention that all of the work is digitally rendered on his website, but his scrupulous attention to detail makes that seem like a dubious claim. To my disappointment, we arranged to meet at Timothy’s Coffee near the Eaton Centre. Bound for yet another international show, this time in San Jose, California, McLeod was on his way to make the transitional rite of passage of purchasing rolling luggage after our visit. To date, the young artist has shown numerous times in the United States as well as in Spain and Brazil.
After graduating from OCAD’s Painting and Drawing program in 2007, McLeod struggled for a while to bring his conceptual musings into being before deciding to learn how render them digitally. Only a few years later, as he relaxes downtown sipping on an icey pink frappe, 5 computers back at his studio are diligently realizing his candy-coated visions of dystopia. His renderings are often immaculate. The dripping amorphous globs that secretly wish they were actually coated with high gloss resin are strung precariously over rickety wooden models of empty houses and dead trees. Apparently, I’m not the first person to question the digital construction of these landscapes as McLeod has been asked to participate in an exhibition of dioramas in New York next year.
Beyond the inviting palette, there is a sense of forboding in many of his landscapes. McLeod’s work as a commercial artist may explain the finely calculated graphic accessibility of the work. The artist’s own admiration of Japanese art icon Takashi Murakami, who so gracefully straddles the worlds of commercial art and contemporary practice, shows in abundant creative parallels. Closer to home, his work could also be compared to that of the Canadian artist duo T&T, (Tyler Brett and Tony Romano) whose “heterotopic” future landscape is also currently on display at the Empire of Dreams show. Their panoramic digital c-print False Creek is one of many recently applauded digital works further validating computer generated fine-art.
McLeod expresses interest in lifecycles and the inevitable repurposing of matter. That said, every landscape remains completely unpopulated in an effort remove references of time-period or cultural specificities. Staring back at me past wispy long hair that twists into the occasional dreadlock, a T-shirt with a fluorescent pink slogan about the planet and glossy gold hi-tops, Alex McLeod is a posterboy for youth and obviously misses the irony when he proclaims that “time is unimportant in his work.” Most likely the omission of inhabitants also preserves the successfully hyper-realistic illusion of these fictional landscapes. It’s too bad though really. It’s fun to imagine what kinds of wonderfully happy little people the infectiously positive McLeod would invite into his worlds. Instead, the invitation is to the viewer only, who is left to wonder if anyone is coming back to check on any of those unattended fires.
Alex McLeod is currently exhibiting at MOCCA: Empire of Dreams and will be showing at Angell Gallery this fall. McLeod is represented by Angell Gallery in Toronto.