Alasdair McLuckie: As a young snail, a middle aged snail, and an old snail, I was not a fast worker

There’s a serpentine quality to the work of Alasdair McLuckie. The bright, repetitive patterns of his glass-bead paintings evoke neat rows of tiny scales, appealing to the touch but warning of danger. His paper collage of found images share the same delicate disorder of discarded snake skin. Your eyes dart from picture to picture, trying to discern meaning from their content and composition. While each material responds differently to McLuckie’s formalist concerns, both exploit a basic human instinct to identify and interpret patterns in the world around us.

The playful title of McLuckie’s latest exhibition ‘As a young snail, a middle aged snail, and an old snail, I was not a fast worker’ refers to the creative ritual of his practice, which requires repetition, perseverance and attention to detail. This laboriousness is most evident in the beaded works, for which he prepares by repeatedly sketching varying initial designs. McLuckie then crafts and re-crafts the patterns using hundreds of tiny beads.

Alasdair McLuckie, Twenty Four Seven earth up sky down, 2018, woven glass seed beads on linen, 51 x 38cm. Courtesy the artist and Murray White Room, Melbourne

Twenty Four Seven earth up sky down (2018) and Twenty Four Seven gravity makes fools of us all (2018) repeat and rotate the same two-toned rectangular spiral in a vertical alignment on one panel; horizontally on the other. Twenty-four spirals in rows of six by four; black and white building blocks depicted with hypnotic precision. The cubic coil is reminiscent of a stylised snail shell, alluding to the concept of slow, persistent labour underpinning this exhibition. It could also pictorialise a patient rattlesnake awaiting its prey, a powerful symbol from Native American Indian art. The artist has acknowledged the formative influence his father’s collection of anthropological works had on his beading style and design.

Alasdair McLuckie, The Youth (Part Two), 2018, woven glass seed beads on wool, 51 x 38cm. Courtesy the artist and Murray White Room, Melbourne

Departing from these graphic patterns are The Youth (Part One) (2018) and The Youth (Part Two) (2018), a pair of beaded panels that replicate a design featuring portrait busts of men and women from different angles. The women sport bob-cut and bangs in a Modernist fashion, while elongated faces and orange highlights on nose or jaw retain some of McLuckie’s Primitivist aesthetic, fusing post-modern subjects with pre-modern style. As with the monochromatic Twenty Four Seven works, McLuckie’s use of colour here is restrained, suggesting the artist has developed more confidence in the strength of his forms and designs. His move away from the vibrant colours of Modernism has brought him closer to the essence of formalism.

Alasdair McLuckie, The Snail Logic Reading Other People’s Mail, 2018, collage on paper, synthetic Polymer paint and ballpoint pen on Binders board artist frame, 61 x 36cm. Courtesy the artist and Murray White Room, Melbourne

While beading requires planning and patience, paper collage channels McLuckie’s spontaneity. Released from material constraints, the artist is prolific in this genre. Several examples from the 16-part The Snail Logic (2018) series are on display in the show, revealing McLuckie’s continued reliance of the process of repetition as a starting point for his exploration of medium. Pictures from historic travel, fashion, and lifestyle magazines are assembled for their pattern and colour rather than narrative or allegory. Although each work contains a spectrum of found images arranged in new ways, greyscale copies of Henri Matisse’s Zulma (1950) appear on every board. Modernist artists who explored Primitivism and paper collage are a recurring inspiration. Zulma has featured prominently in several recent series by the artist as both subject and source, muse and material, extending his exploration of the intersections between mythology, ritual and design.

It’s also likely that Matisse’s The Snail (1953) was the instigation for McLuckie’s inclusion of the slow-and-steady mollusc throughout this exhibition. Matisse’s famous paper collage broke the smooth circular shell of a snail into brightly coloured squares arranged in a loose spiral. The rough geometry of the work may indeed be the origins of McLuckie’s refined interpretation in Twenty Four Seven.

Liv Spiers is a writer based in Adelaide.

Murray White Room
11 May to 16 June, 2018