Extra Texture: Alan James McLeod at Doubtfire Gallery

Alan James McLeod, 'Gardens of Nineveh', gouache and metal leaf on board and paper
Alan James McLeod, 'Gardens of Nineveh', gouache and metal leaf on board and paper

Alan James McLeod: Another Time, Another Place

Wed - Sun 12:00 - 16:00

From: 21 Sep 2022

To: 22 Oct 2022

Doubtfire Gallery
28 North West Circus Place
Edinburgh & the Lothians

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Alan James McLeod graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 1990 with a BA (Hons) in Applied Design, winning an award for furnishing textiles from the RSA. His early career was chiefly in textile design, working with companies such as John Lewis, Habitat, Zoffany and Sanderson Fabrics.  

Latterly he has experimented with painting to study the landscape and elements through time and place, revisiting moments and untravelling journeys. My inspiration comes from diverse sources including ageing interiors, weathered surfaces, documenting emotional responses to music and memory, celestial bodies and the seasons.  The wear caused by nature, from weathering of man-made and natural materials, reveals a multi-layered history.’ – Alan James McLeod

With his background in textile design, the aim is to recreate highly textural surfaces, architectural details and artefacts, through layers of hand-painted paper and finely crafted abstract collages. Most impressive, and facing you on the wall when you walk into the gallery, is Moon of the seas, a shimmering blend of azure, aqua and turquoise blue. The translucent effect of the moonlight is reflected in the curving, swirling waves with a ridged pattern like finger and thumbprints. 

Alan James McLeod, 'Moon of the seas', gouache on board and paper
‘Moon of the seas’, gouache on board and paper

With its two contrasting blocks combined together, Gardens of Nineveh appears to represent the peeling olive green/grey paint of an old wooden door set against a section of faded, pink floral wall paper. It’s up to the viewer to interpret and identify a particular meaning or subject in this decorative image. Nineveh (modern-day Mosul, Iraq) was one of the greatest cities and trading ports of the Assyrian empire, bringing to mind the poem, Cargoes.

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory, and apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

– John Masefield 

Alan James McLeod, 'Gardens of Nineveh', gouache and metal leaf on board and paper
‘Gardens of Nineveh’, gouache and metal leaf on board and paper

Using water-based paints on paper, often rubbed with clear wax, layers are built up then scraped and washed to reveal the flaked, scratched veneer of colour beneath. This time-consuming technique is clearly visible again in Spirits of the forest, a most evocative woodland scene of tree bark and delicate buds of wild flowers. The two juxtaposed patterns have a subtle watery effect, like rain on leaves adding to its atmospheric mood.  Such meticulous tactile texture, sprinkled with silver leaf to add a glow of soft light. 

Alan James McLeod, 'Spirits of the forest', gouache and silver leaf on fabric and paper
‘Spirits of the forest’, gouache and silver leaf on fabric and paper

McLeod is a master of printmaking and collage, combining hand-painted paper, metal leaf, textiles, selected marks and symbols with delicate yet richly decorative detail.  

Like a fantastical, fairylike dance of summer daisies, Pollen path II is bathed in coral-yellow sunlight which shimmers through a gauze of tangled branches and tall trees.   

Alan James McLeod, 'Pollen path II', gouache on board and paper
‘Pollen path II’, gouache on board and paper

In The swift Amber River, a series of golden, shining moons float across the silk and paper backdrop in a graceful wave of green and bronze like flowing water. Haku is a river spirit, the god of the swift amber river in the Japanese animated fantasy film Spirited Away.  There is a musicality in the rhythm of this painting, perhaps inspired by Joe Hisaishi’s film score, such as the eloquent, rippling movement evoked in Day of the River. 

Alan James McLeod, 'The swift Amber River', gouache and metal leaf on paper and printed silk
‘The swift Amber River’, gouache and metal leaf on paper and printed silk

‘Silent poetry. With a fierce calm, like a storm being born, a shadow falls over time and place. The swift Amber River reveals a task as thoughts become more dreamlike. The night sky falls deep in the forest that nobody knows, but up on the mountain, the sky grows tall, where nobody goes.’

Alan James McLeod does indeed create silent poetry in his dreamlike, meditative paintings, with a hidden narrative or message to uncover. Through a harmonious blend of calm colours and recurring motifs from the natural world – moon, stars, icicles, flowers, trees – there is a lingering sense of nostalgia for the past as well as hope for the future. 

With thanks to Viv Devlin for this review.

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