Toronto-based artist Alex McLeod makes virtual environments using 3D software with a focus on interconnectivity and life cycles. His work is both familiar and uncanny, presented in formats including prints, sculpture and murals. McLeod has exhibited his art around the world, though Torontonians may know him best from Green Hills Discovery, a double-sided mural currently installed at The Bentway, a new public space underneath the Gardiner Expressway.
We are pleased to offer two of McLeod’s prints in our Canadian Art auction, offered online from March 27-April 1, and took the opportunity to chat with this international art superstar about his pandemic year, artists he’s collecting, and who he thinks is the greatest Canadian artist.
Hi Alex! Tell us a bit about this past year.
What were the memorable high and low points?
Gratitude for all I have, for my friends who are here and healthy, and that I’m able to continue to make work. That has been the driving force every day. I’ve been able to collaborate with other artists, visual or musical so much more this past year because we have the time for it. There have been a lot of moments of reflection, where I’ve gone and where I would like to be. All in all, I’ve kept it positive.
I was reading an article in the New York Times recently that asked what a do-over of this past year would look like had you known how long you’d be locked down.
I probably should have kept a better diet, it’s so easy to reach for bad food to feel good. I’m making up for it now though!
Ah yes! These were two works I made for a show at Angell Gallery called Outworld. I was really proud of that show. I kept one work called Cloud Birth Black to remind me of it. Cloud City is almost a helicopter perspective of an imaginary city, although I have been super inspired by the Toronto financial district at night, I think that I consciously re-imagined the Mies van der Rohe towers in that one.
Gold Plains was a special work for me, it contains mainly three distinct types of trees, with the smallest appearing like a hedge or formal garden. This was also one where I mixed two types of clouds, both flat and round but both glass. I wanted the viewer to experience multiple perspectives and places at once, as if you’re coming in for a landing as well as seeing a light on in your cabin in the woods.
I think that the idea of “inspiration” diminishes the hard work and long hours that it takes to be an artist and that the job of creating is often overly romanticized. I think the better question is to ask about your obsessions, which better inform who you are and thus the art that you make. So: what are your obsessions?
Luckily my obsessions are creating. My work is very process-based, I could start with the intention of creating something entirely different. It’s that interplay of intention and leaving things up to chance that keeps things interesting to me. if I change one colour it inherently affects the whole scene, the whole virtual world is in flux until it isn’t and the work is complete.
Who do you think is the greatest Canadian artist?
I worked for Kent Monkman when I was finishing my undergrad, and honestly, I found that experience to be one of the most valuable in my career. He works so much and so smartly, and it really showed me what it takes to maintain a practice. Honestly, there are way too many Canadian artists and I can’t name them all, but I am super proud and inspired by Esmaa Mohamoud. She’s got so much talent, ideas and charisma that I don’t think there is any stopping.
Who do you think is the most underrated artist? Someone who deserves much more attention than they’re getting/have gotten?
Lido Pimienta’s visual art for sure, I mean she’s Grammy nominated so folks know her for her music, but her paintings, drawings and ceramics are stunning.
What do you wish you had known when you began your career?
How important keeping peer groups around the world is. We are all in this together and if we don’t make opportunities for each other it’s going to be a lot harder.
What are some major differences now as opposed to when you were starting out?
Render speeds are so much faster. I wasn’t able to do much video work because it would take me a month to render one minute, and some print pieces would take two weeks using multiple computers. Better technology has allowed me to keep up with the demand for constant content and tighter turnarounds which I wouldn’t have been able to manage before.
We’ve seen and experienced a lot of change over the past 12 months. What effect(s) do you think (or perhaps hope) this will have on the art world?
I hope that folks can come out of this with more compassion and respect for one another. I regret so many times being on my phone around friends when I really should have just been in the moment. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, right?
So much of your work is grounded in the digital world. We’re in a moment where so much of the art world is either panicking or rejoicing in the rise of NFTs and the potential for art to be intangible. What are your thoughts?
I’m worried about the environmental impact of all crypto. I don’t know, it’s something new and exciting and worth looking into, but although I use digital tools, I would still rather buy and consume art the old-fashioned way.
You’re well known as a collector. What makes a piece or item cross the threshold from “that’s nice” to “I need to own that”?
The million-dollar question. I always go with intuition. Early on, that could have been dangerous but now I’m looking mainly at works made by peers who I’m familiar with, so purchases couldn’t ever be a regret.
What is your favourite piece in our upcoming Canadian Art auction?
Lot 42, Scott Everingham’s Supple Mechanism. I love Scott, he’s such a great painter and human. His work walks the line between abstraction and figuration in such an alluring way. I don’t have one of his pieces yet but I know one day I will.
What’s your most recent acquisition?
Just the other day I bought some of Ness Lee’s work that I had been admiring for a while. I suppose I waited so that I could give myself a treat when I really needed it. Now I regret all of the time I spent without her pieces in my house!
If you could own only three artworks–-regardless of space, money and availability–-what would you choose and why?
I would love one of Nep Sidhu’s tapestries, the ones from Mercer Union “Medicine for a Nightmare” show were everything. One of Shary Boyle’s ceramics, anything, without a doubt. And a nice sublime Sarah Anne Johnson would be just fine.
Who is an artist whose work you think will be stratospheric in the next year or two?
Esmaa Mohamoud without a doubt, and if not then she’s just planning a bigger lift-off.
What are you currently working on? Will we see an exhibition of new work this year?
I have a show opening soon on April 8 at Gallery Jones in Vancouver. They show Brendan Tang and Bradley Harms who have both been previous collaborators so the space feels like home. Due to the pandemic, I won’t be attending in person but my heart will be there! The rest of the year looks to be super busy with all the projects and exhibitions that had to get pushed from last year. For updates follow me on Instagram at @ALEX_MCLEOD_
We are pleased to offer two works by Alex McLeod in our Canadian Art auction, alongside members of the Group of Seven, the Regina Five, the Painters Eleven, Gershon Iskowitz and Michael Snow. Editioned works are available by Jean Paul Riopelle, Jack Bush, David Blackwood, Alex Colville and York Wilson. Look for an excellent group of contemporary art by Martin Golland, Scott Everingham, and Truman Couture (Thrush Holmes).
The auction is offered online from March 27 – April 1, 2021. We invite you to browse the full online gallery.
Should you have any questions or require additional photographs, condition reports or would enjoy a virtual preview, please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected].
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