Artist Euan Macleod decided to create a series of artworks to view and reflect on his artistic interpretation of Port Macquarie’s coastal beauty. These works are being exhibited at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery from May 7 – June 19. Euan has decided to donate the major piece of work from this exhibition to the Gallery.
Hi Euan. What’s been keeping you busy since FOCUS spoke to you last year?
I’ve been really busy, actually. Last year I had a show that was travelling around, and there was a lot of public stuff happening. This year I’ve been trying as hard as I can to stay in the studio. I have a solo show coming up at Watters Gallery in Sydney in August, so the focus for me has been new work. It’s quite nerve wracking actually – there’s a lot of pressure to produce work.
I had the trip to Port Macquarie last year, and that trip has inspired a lot of the work I am now doing … the coastal landscape has been very inspiring for me. Sitting up on top of the cliffs looking down on Port Macquarie’s coastline was very influential for what I’m now doing – it had quite a big impact on me.
Apart from your previous exhibition, what else did you do while you visited last time?
I only stayed for 3 or 4 days, and it was lovely – I had a fantastic time. We held a master class with about 6 or 7 people and went out to some lovely areas to paint. It was a very special day. The paintings for my new exhibition came directly out of that day.
What works will be included in your latest exhibition at the Glasshouse?
There will be about 6 or 7 works on paper, which I literally did on the spot while I was in Port Macquarie and a couple of small canvases, but the main focus of the show – to me – is the two large canvases I’ve done.
I talked to Sharni at the Glasshouse about putting something of mine in the collection at the Gallery – it’s a beautiful collection and a beautiful gallery. After we spoke about this, I thought the obvious work to donate would be one based on Port Macquarie.
So, I used those original works on paper and did two paintings; one of them seemed to be more ‘Port Macquarie’, while the other was not necessarily as site-specific. The one that is very much Port Macquarie is the work I’m donating to the Gallery.
The major work is actually of a person painting, and I’ve used as a model one of the people who was painting on that day [of the master class] … but I suppose that person could really have been me. This work shows the beautiful headland just south of the main beach.
The works on paper show the studies the main canvases were based on and help put the canvases in context.
How has your previous trip to and showing in Port Macquarie affected your style of painting (if at all)?
The short answer is you couldn’t really change your style. I was looking at my work this morning and I feel as though it has changed … but I have still painted landscapes and there are still figures in the landscapes, so how are they different? I think the public may be expecting quite large changes, but for painters, the changes may often be quite small – and imperceptible to other people. The changes can be very subtle.
I suppose for me the main change is that sense of a coastal landscape. I’ve often worked with the coast, but the thing that was very different for me, is a lot of the coastal work I’ve done in the past has involved a harbour. With Port Macquarie, there were the waves and the crashing water – which is a very different thing to paint. The water becomes much more active.
Of course, these paintings are very specific to Port Macquarie – and I’ve never painted the area before, but I bring my own way of painting to the works.
How did you go about recapturing the scenery from Port Macquarie? Did you work from photographs, memory, or the works on paper you mentioned?
A bit of everything … photos, memory, the works on paper. I did the actual works on paper on the spot. Often the en plein air works you do can be taken back to the studio to become the basis for your major works.
This is where I think the exhibition will be quite interesting … because you have these works, as well as the ma jor works that are based on the works on paper. But I did take some photos and also try to work from memory as much as possible. Memory is an incredibly important part in the process.
What medium do you use to capture the works on paper? Obviously if they’re done on site, for practical reasons they’d have to be easy to use and dry quickly?
Kind of like a gouache, but really they’re an acrylic. For me, this is much faster than drawing. I like to work very quickly when I’m out.
Were the large paintings completed with acrylic as well?
They’re oil; I generally work with oil on the larger scale. I love the physicality of the oil, and even when I’m out painting en plein air I try to use oil, but it’s just logistically too hard. You need to be organised in setting up and finding a place to leave the work. The paintings can take days to pack up and dry.
The large painting I completed took quite a long time – and it’s the first large work I’ve done for a while. Because I was travelling a lot last year, I wasn’t getting a lot of time in the studio. It was quite an important painting for me. I’m really excited about seeing it with my other works …
Final question: why do you often include figures in your landscapes? What is it about the relationship between human figures and the environment that captures your imagination?
(Laughs). The answer is: “I don’t know!” It seems to make sense to me. I guess my paintings are about the relationship of us to our landscape. It’s not just about looking at a landscape, but how we physically interact with it.
This takes into account all kinds of things like environmental issues and how the environment interacts with us – take the earthquake in Christchurch, for example.
In a funny kind of way, I suppose I’ve always painted the figure, rather than the landscape – with the landscape slipping in behind the figure (rather than the other way around).
The figures I try to keep as open as possible – I don’t even want to put hairstyles on them. I don’t like being specific about the figures … often I can’t help myself and I turn around and start painting a figure that is nearby, and then the whole landscape can take on a whole different meaning to me. I feel if you’re excited by something, the paintings are exciting!
Interview by Jo Atkins.
Photos of paintings by Michel Brouet.