Alastair MacLennan – a visit to his studio at Noon of 10th April 2018

On his kind invitation  we met in front of the Flax Art. The lift was made dysfunctional by someone not heading the printed advice to close both gates when leaving.

MacLennan’s  studio has almost Corbusier inspired  ribbon windows  on two walls – flooding the large room with light making  shadows nowhere to hide.

The view of the mountains  has been replaced by the recent Belfast Best Architects  supported by Ulster University establishment with building more repulsive than ornament ever was to Adolf Loos.  I ask: why is it that an architect desecrates the mountains and sky …does he/she luck the culture?  Why do Papuans have culture and Belfast  architects not?  Until now that has been no period of non culture in the red brick Belfast streets with charm of  19th C  reed brick and and Art Deco facades.

We both feel diminished by the bad design.  Looking down from the window, the lower roof offers an invitation to recover – tiny grass and mosses colonized the roofs in an almost regular pattern above the walls marked with stains of rain water.  Water and air. Thinking of Leonardo’s advice how to train your imagination.

On the table next to the door – huge piles of the same size paper, some untouched, some painted on.  Too many to guess. On top -there is one with a whisper of light blue – novelty in Alastair’s black -and- white and  more- black-  art world.  Stays with me for the next three hours. Then I take it home.

On the floor on  separate crumbled and then straightened  black plastic bags, nests either   drawing  or painting.  Black.  Either  painted in oil or drawn in ink.  The pen makes marks like engravers tool, the brush drip drops like a faulty tap.   I do not think there is one yet, that combines  ink and oil … brush and pen… to replace the either or…

I hear MacLennan’s  words describing the process  – the paper is soaked in water first, then the marks are made, then it is left to dry  overnight or longer…  until it is as if ironed flat again. The waves created by the water are lifted to the walls and ceiling.

Alastair signs both drawings and paintings thus:

air, water, Alastair MacLennan.

Deliberate deflation of anthropocentrism… although the process starts with I Ching limiting the number of marks allowed  to 29.  Do I  remember the correct number? I am not sure. It matters less to me than the  glorious contamination of artist’s intention by natural forces.

This artist works daily – producing large numbers of the same size results.  Some  include a chance meeting of the marks  and resemblance –  on occasion the recognition is humorous – I zoomed on one that looked like deep ocean fish which I saw in  David Attenborough’s revelatory   Ocean  The Blue Planet.  When I turn the sheet that resemblance disappears completely.   The memory lingers, the eye is searching for more.  Bad habit? Perhaps.

It is freedom. This art is freedom that younger MacLennan did not dare to contemplate.  It is also freedom for me as a viewer – like music it does not describe appearances, ideology, politics,  it is a free as art Kandinsky dreamed of in that letter to Schoenberg.

Schoenberg created atonal music with free chromaticism, nonharmonic
tones and unresolved tones of dissonance. In his music, Schoenberg used what he called “developing variations,” which were  chromatic structures; the theme of the piece constantly changed. An apt parallel to MacLennan’s current series AIR A LAIR.

Kandinsky thought  that painting could not provide such freedom for the viewer, but aimed at it.

MacLennan is offering that freedom in heaps.  His compositions do not diminish your prejudice or habits only invite you to let them play with other chances, other possibilities.


Kandinsky once said,
“The very word composition called forth in me an inner vibration. Subsequently, I made it my own aim in life to paint a composition. He also aimed at harvesting “cosmos”.

MacLennan directs  the composition  more down to earth. He embraces  air and water ( the necessary conditions for life)  to collaborate as co- authors. A strategy – I suspect- still connected to his  life long dislike of art market values.

The  drying drawings and paintings  on the floor  gently  managed to heal the insulting pain  sent over from the buildings visible at my eye level.  Freedom against the dictatorship.   Only until I looked out again.

White Cottage,14/04/2018, 17.14






About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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