Eye on the World

Brisbane News - 2004 by Phil Brown

Artist and illustrator Simon Mclean produces works in charcoal that attract and intrigue

Art was a bit dour for a while there, but colour, the more vibrant the better, seems to be popular again.

The burgeoning of indigenous art with its often bright hues may have had something to do with that. So it’s probably a bold move on the part of Simon Mclean to be entering the contemporary artistic fray with a flurry of charcoal works on paper.

Simon, who has worked as a graphic artist and illustrator over the years, is now refocusing himself on his art. And if the work in the exhibition All At Sea at New Farm Galleries, is any indication of what’s to come, he’s made the right decision.

With a glut of galleries and artists on the Brisbane scene, any new work has to have some point of difference to capture the public’s imagination. Simon’s thoughtful, witty and atmospheric works manage to do just that.

The monochromatic approach can be a bit limiting, but Simon’s imaginative style imbues these darkish surfaces with a lively, narrative approach. His love of cartooning and caricature is evident, but it’s tricky trying to elevate these to the level of fine art.

Artists like Garry Shead and Michael Leunig have managed it and it’s not too outrageous to put Simon in their league.
Robert Dickerson could also be mentioned as a point of reference, if one is required.

Simon also shares an ability with Leunig, for example, to capture a certain poignancy with his idiosyncratic images. In the title piece, All At Sea, a man who seems to be all head – floats alone in a small boat, with a watchful Egyptian eye staring out at the viewer.
In this work Simon evokes the same sort of themes of alienation and loneliness so often explored by Leunig.

“I’m not conscious of any influences actually”, says Mclean, “People can read into them whatever they want.”

One gallery-goer, an aquaintance of the artist, declared, “I had no idea you were so serious or disturbed.”

So obviously some may find the sombre tones and subject matter a little confronting, but the works are informed by a sardonic humour that turns even the potentially prosaic into something else altogether. A Case in point is a drawing of a platypus. There’s endless potential for cliché there, but Simon’s platypus, a duckbill and head that seems to be swimming into the frame, is quite unique.
It’s all in the eye, actually, an eye that looks out at the viewer unblinking and with a look of wisdom mingled with suspicion. A neat trick that.

The repetition of the eye as a central motif and the weird figures make one think about ancient Egyptians. This, says Simon, is entirely coincidental.

“People can read their own metaphors into the work,” he says. Fair enough. And there’s plenty of scope for that because so much of his imagery attracts and intrigues.
The work New Shoes, for example, shows a mermaid regarding a pair of red shoes, the only splash of colour in the show. Since the show is mercifully free of any textual claptrap to accompany the works, you are free to let your imagination do it’s wonderful work on such a piece.
Less enigmatic and more in line with his cartooning background is the humorous work The Last Cuppa, a gentle parody on Da Vinci’s work The Last Supper. As the title suggests, the attendants at this event, a secular rather than religious affair, attended by men who look suspiciously like civil servants, are drinking tea and enjoying some cake instead of bread and wine.

The cartooning also rears its head (and I use the word head advisedly) in a top-heavy portrait called Mickey Man. There’s no doubting which famous mouse inspired this quirky piece.

As well as the New farm exhibition, Simon is also showing a selection of portraits
At Grosvenor on George, in the city.

This small exhibition, titled Legal Eagles, features folk involved in the Legal world and is a shameless attempt to get them to buy art. Good idea Simon.