Supporting Partick Thistle: Rob McLeod

Supporting Partick Thistle focuses on Wellington painter Rob McLeod’s exuberant cartoon-based figuration of the last decade. Rejecting the limitations imposed by the frame and the wall, McLeod works predominately on shaped plywood. His over-sized, colour-saturated, image-laden paintings explode in a mutinous mass of figures and actions.

These are paintings set on testing boundaries, including the line between good taste and bad taste, repulsion and fascination. The limits of painting and its relationship with the viewer are continually pushed. Wildly idiosyncratic yet formally and conceptually complex, the paintings confound and unsettle. They taunt their audience to look and think again, to work or laugh harder.

Many of these paintings spill onto the floor, trespassing into the viewer’s space. Others have multiple or interchangeable parts that demand to be moved and swapped around, including a set of paintings which pack into and out of a large painted box. At various times throughout the exhibition these mobile components will be reconfigured, forcing the Gallery to rejuvenate itself.

McLeod constantly extends the experience of painting as something to be both made and encountered. He challenges the ways painting can operate in and on the contemporary world, and its relationship to other media like sculpture, installation and video. McLeod argues that to remain relevant painting must force active viewing rather than passive contemplation. Painting ‘needs to do more than sit quietly on the wall’. It must meet its audience on other terms, in other ways, while always remaining resolutely painting. The show’s title refers to a running joke in Scotland. The Partick Thistle soccer team never wins, so supporting it is an act of faith. For McLeod, this parallels continuing to paint, working in ‘a medium which everyone keeps saying is dead’.

This exhibition hinges on McLeod’s ambitious series of four-meter paintings made between 2003 and 2006, supported by earlier and more recent work that registers both the shifts in his practice and the continuation of its core values. 

The most recent paintings introduce new characters to the artist’s unruly coterie of figures, including the diminutive ‘small man’. Stuck in an ill-fitting suit and puffing on an inhaler, the small man is distanced from the orgiastic, riotous mob behaviour of McLeod’s larger paintings. It is one response to the provocation McLeod’s work offers its audience: step into and give yourself up to the boundless possibilities embedded in these outlandish paintings, or shuffle around nervously on the outside.

City Gallery Wellington, 23 June–23 September 2012