Euan Macleod Essay


Published Wednesday, 2 January 2002

The history of Australian painting places a significance on the artist's depiction of the figures place in the landscape. Since the colonial period artists have battlembol for historical and contemporary contexts.

Image: Ladder, 180 x 137cm; oil on canvas; 1998.

In reference to the Colonial period it highlighted the pastoral and the romantic, which evolved with the Heidelberg school where the figure and the landscape captured the unique, impressionist painting techniques and captured dual populist sentiments of the heroic figure in the bush (Tom Roberts) as well as the threat one faced of living or settling in the bush (Frederick McCubbin).

The perception of identity is amplified in the depiction of the figure in the landscape; and it offers a real and idealised account of Australia. This treatment of such an archetypal representation of Australia has been explored by a number of artists in an attempt to temper a particular perspective that captures the Australian spirit. The artists associated with the Angry Penguins movement (including Nolan, Tucker, Perceval and Boyd) attempted to forge a modern identity that was uniquely Australian. Once more the relationship between the landscape and figure and the images it produced became an integral component of this art movement. Similarly contemporary Australian artists are examining Australian identity in physical, cultural, spiritual, conceptual and psychological terms.

Euan Macleod confirms the historic temperament towards identity and a reflection of living in Australia. Macleod examines the metaphor of the figure in the landscape.

Macleod discusses how his work can be read on many levels and that he hesitates to give a specific explanation to any work. He identifies the symbolic properties of his work referring to the landscape as a psychological state of existence; the figure articulates this personal investigation citing the figure as both personal and symbolic. His work offers a development of the depiction of the figure in the landscape; and his reference to Jungian psychology offers a separate critical alternative to the orthodoxy within this genre.

Macleod explains that through the plasticity of the paint he can come to a point to where there is a particular unity of feeling and aesthetic sensibility:

" when it translates to, well either flesh or water or a surface, so that when you're looking at it you're not looking at beautiful paint, you're looking at matter - physicality."

The handling of the paint is as important to the artist as the subject matter, and it is the competency and intuitive handling of the paint that give his work its very strength. Getting convincing tonal variations in a composition, according to Macleod is the most engaging quality in the process of painting, highlighting the process of pushing the paint to reveal form and manifest colour. His process is evolutionary in terms of how images evolve from the canvas with the artist being assisted by producing preliminary studies to guide his technique. His work is a constant dialogue between the technical proficiency of his paint handling and the ideas that dwell within the theme of the figure in the landscape.

Macleod received public recognition for his work by winning the Archibald Prize for portraiture in 1998 with his portrait titled Head like a Hole. This work typifies his approach to both the landscape and the figure; where both take on a symbiotic relationship and where visually both features interact. The dense tonal compositions leave unresolved ambiguous features leaving the viewer to determine whether his work is an allegory of the psychological self, a rhetorical image that harnesses the momentum of Australian landscape painting or fictional glimpses.

Macleod understands the importance of developing a competency in the use of the medium but also understands the conceptual potency that is generated in depicting the figure in the landscape. He is an artist who locates himself in a traditional genre which is fascinated with history and identity, yet offers a critical interpretation by means of creating autonomous landscapes that are general and never specific to a place or time.

Questions on the artist

  • Euan Macleod demonstrates how the relationship of the figure in the landscape can mean much more than how it appears. Discuss his work in terms of using the Subjective and Postmodern frame.
  • Critically analyse his work in terms of the use of symbols, signs and metaphors. Explain the importance of the figure in the landscape.
  • How does Macleod handle his paint and what process of application does he use?
  • Trace the historical significance of the figure in the landscape found in Australian paintings.
  • Select one of Macleod's paintings and analyse the work in terms of its psychological significance and use of personal symbols.
  • Find out when Macleod won the Archibald Portrait Prize and give a critical account of the work that won it.

Artists Connections

Historical Contemporary
Pierre Bonnard Leon Kossoff
Edvard Munch Frank Auerbach
Oskar Kokoschka Francis Bacon
Chaim Soutine Anslem Kiefer
William Turner Davida Allen
EugeneVon Geurrard Louise Hearman

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