September 2017

Off The Chain

rob mcleishrob mcleishrob mcleishrob mcleishrob mcleishrob mcleishrob mcleishrob mcleishrob mcleishrob mcleishrob mcleishText: Melissa Loughnan Images: Rob McLeish

Rob McLeish’s work can be defined as operating against notions of transcendence, catharsis, teleology and opulence, reducing capitalist motivations and religious beliefs to satire and irony. He cites imagined and inoperable instruments, popular culture and ’90s L.A. slacker art among his many sources of inspiration.

As McLeish’s current exhibition, Tapeworm, comes down at Neon Parc, Melissa Loughnan catches up with him to talk the vuvuzela, bell clapper and Julie Andrews.


ML: Can you describe the inspiration for your most recent bodies of work?

RM: No, but I got really into the vuvuzela. And the oil blow out. When they were disgorging simultaneously it was the same thing.

ML: So is the vuvuzela and the oil blow out reflected in the Remarques For Asses series of works included in Tapeworm at Neon Parc?

RM: Not specifically. I had commenced making that work prior to those things… but as phenomenons they’re excessive, which is something I’m really interested in… they were simultaneously ecstatic and catastrophic. All that oil was like a massive shrimp-cocktail being spilt by the waiter – in an instant it goes from being something valuable, desirable, a privilege, to something foul and humiliating. Consumed and digested in, that’s fine, but spilt on and there’s a transformation; it becomes abhorrent. I’m really into that fluidity. The vuvuzela was the same; it flooded the actual game and morphed a celebratory gesture into something indifferent, uncaring and immoral…and became intoxicating. And formless.

ML: What else is this series of work about?

RM: Well the bell clapper obviously can’t ring because there’s no bell, its utility is gone. Also it’s been constructed and then deconstructed, the clay has been clawed off and the foam armature is exposed, falling out… so there’s a destruction as creation thing and the desecration is very expressive and innate looking but it’s a cast, a replica made out of epoxy resin, so it’s a monument to that… a fetish, it’s not the act. A remarque is some form of distinguishing, authenticating mark that is used on the edge of an engraving plate – at an early stage and removed later once the proofs have been worked out. And then there’s Julie Andrews circa Sound of Music, which is a really clichéd image, both as a positive image to celebrate and as a positive image to transgress. All in all it’s basically anti-transcendent.

ML: Your work relies on an appropriation of sorts. What influences your selection of images? i.e. Julie Andrews vs. topless women.

RM: There’s a million influences, topless Julie would be good.

ML: You seem to have developed a clear stylistic iconography in your work. Could you tell me where the plunger comes from? It often appears to be holding up the work as a set of screws would for a painting. Is it an anti white cube comment?

RM: A plunger purges, cleans out the pipes… slammed into a wall it’s pretty irreverent and tragicomic. Holding up a picture it becomes parasitic… and again they’re all cast so any suction/collapse tension is hollow. I love white cubes, and in relation to the plunger the more vacuous the better.

ML: Would you posit your work with such artists as Mike Kelly and Paul McCarthy? There seems to be a strong ’90s L.A. slacker aesthetic in your work. Would that be fair to say?

RM: Their shadow is so large; it’s kind of omni-present in art making… for me at least. I definitely follow and am very into their work. I like L.A. in general and I like alot of art that comes out of there but any ‘slacker’ aesthetic in my work is fairly stylised… formal rigour is a large part of my art… the loose aspects are usually formalised in some way and vice versa.

ML: Penny Modra, in a piece for Three Thousand, suggested that ‘Step Into the Light’, your work exhibited in Life, Death, Thereafter at Silvershot Gallery in 2007, ‘may or may not have pitted art’s fashionable atheism and the irony now embedded somewhere in all post Grunge-era conceptualism against a personal ambition to explore the sincere’. Would you agree with this statement, would you say that your work may (or may not) have inspired recent post-grunge/atheist trends in art, and would you associate yourself with other such Melbourne-based artists as Simon Pericich and Alex Vivian? I suppose this also goes back to references of ’90s L.A. slacker art…

RM: Well the work oscillates between different positions, so it’s open to that reading but if it does emanate ‘any personal ambition to explore the sincere’, it does so as a flat joke – I’ve always viewed that figure as some kind of shitty stand-up act, which is maybe what Penny is getting at… for me atheism is a given and any kind of conceptual or philosophical thought, I mean if you’re going to spend time thinking about thinking… there’s no need to if you have a religious faith. Sincerity in art – I think sincerity can be a component within an artwork, as in one part of something more complex, but if it’s seen as a goal, then it starts pushing towards ideas of honesty, which I would totally reject, because you’re slipping into some search for absolute truths and/or some kind of transcendent reality… I would always work in opposition to that. I don’t think I’ve inspired any post-grunge/atheist trends… maybe me and Alex share a soft spot for excretion…

ML: And, finally, back to Penny, what was your 2009 Ocular Lab exhibition, Pissing In The Infinity Pool about? Did you pee in a collector’s pool?

RM: No, not yet. But pools are an on-going subject for me… the title is… I guess a lot of things: the futility of making art… luxury, desecration, supply/utility/waste, hi/low… infection… laughing.

Rob McLeish recently completed an MFA at Monash University and is a studio artist at Gertrude Contemporary. Selected group exhibitions include Flowers In The Attic, TCB Art Inc., 2010; Canadian Pharmacy, Neon Parc, 2010; Gertrude Studios, Gertrude Contemporary, 2009; OMFG!, C3, 2009; Don’t Trust The Artist, curated by Alexie Glass-Kantor, Ivan Dougherty Gallery, University of NSW, Sydney, 2009; Life, Death, Thereafter, Silvershot, 2008; and Young Old Hot, TCB Art Inc., 2008.
Recent solo exhibitions include Keep Art Evil, Monash University (MFA Examination), 2010; Bung Eye, Studio 12, Gertrude Contemporary, 2010; Pissing In The Infinity Pool, Ocular Lab, 2009; Afterparty, Westspace, 2008; and Step Into The Light, TCB Art Inc., 2007. McLeish is represented by Neon Parc in Melbourne and will be exhibiting a solo presentation with them at the NADA Miami Art Fair in December later this year.

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