McDonald’s drawings of
patient but melancholy bovines are beguiling because he is not only an
excellent draughtsman but also a thoughtful observer. He happily admits to a
beefy obsession, which breaks out in various ways. The drawings are immediately
and doubly appealing – aesthetically pleasing, they also place you in sympathy
with the big creatures often shown tethered, ringed through the nose.
bulls started us talking about masculinity. His cowhide furniture started us
talking about the feminine. It’s impossible not to see a challenge in the
provocative ideas behind turning a black and white hide into a couch, or using
it to upholster a seat the shoulder-backs of which turn upwards like horns.
Even while he was painting sublimely poised still-lives composed of jugs and
cloth, he was playing around with masculinity metaphors in various
bull-inspired sculptural works. They are interesting because they appear to
ask, “what’s do you think about this?”, rather than saying, “here’s what you
ought to think”. Only under-done and ignorant art sends out a message, and even
Angus’s reasonably straightforward bull drawings are ambiguous, with plenty of
space for a viewer to fossick for responses and for meanings. Now, it’s not
just hides, but skulls. The big box, covered in hide, with a skull embedded in
a window at its centre is like a shrine, while the skull painted as though
reflecting the sky and mounted on a black cowhide canvas is like an icon. It’s
all a little unnerving. Then you turn from the real skulls and cowhide, to
their representation, so life-like, in these new paintings Angus is calling his
nudes. In the big work which gives the show its title – Love, Death and Cowhide
– you get the lot: a sleeping, sex-satiated women, a couch with hornlike
back-boards, steer skulls, and, new in the McDonald catalogue of quasi-symbols,
a prominent, round, green watermelon – the seedless type. A busy scene, but at
rest. A scene full of potency, but sublimated. A painting with such surface
tension it almost quivers.
Others of his nudes seem homage to lust, and I
find these less unnerving, although there is, even here, a tension between
smoothly rendered surface, and what lies beneath, as though the painting’s
stasis is always about to be magically, perhaps dangerously, disturbed.
life is not unnerving, then chances are you have lost your nerve – there’s that
idea of courage again, which pulses along within Angus’s work. It’s not a brash
or immature courage, but worked at, and with
Beauty, the idea of perfection,
which Angus McDonald’s skill makes him capable of rendering, is depressing if
it isn’t challenged. But challenging it requires more than an easy, glib
reference to ugliness and vulgarity. When you start mucking around with the
sensuality of beauty, you can end up with treacly insincerity, or you can end
up with an honesty that prickles a little like heat-induced skin rash.
the kind of honesty you can experience in a lusciously meticulous oil painting
of a cow against a storm-beautiful sky. Slightly wild, a little dreamy,
absurdly lovely: Angus’s art enjoys its sensual power but doesn’t take it easy.
I saw much of this new work when he was rushing to complete it, the big busy
couch-nude still awaiting a final workover to get that surface tension
happening, and his madly provocative skull-enframed work needing some
adjustment, he said, so the dead head did not look so “contrite”. Angus
crouched behind his cowhide-covered box, holding up the steer’s skull, willing
me not just to see but also to feel the totemic mystery of this construction.
His sleepy nude loomed behind, the eroticized shimmer of a still-life beckoned
to one side, and an odd nest of horns, arranged around an egg-shape like a kind
of bovine diadem sat a little further off. It’s easy to be charmed by the world
as created by Angus McDonald: but it’s the frisson of uncertainty that really
gives it its appeal ”
– Rosemary Sorenson , The Australian- excerpt from catalogue
essay- April 2010
"Angus McDonald's paintings are marked by that very
enhanced realism that renders the ordinary extraordinary. This, through his
adept handling of light, line, colour and composition, McDonald transforms his
humble subjects of white cloth, fruit and receptacle into mesmerising scenes
that refresh our vision."
– Dr Jacqueline Milner, University of Western Sydney (excerpt
from the catalogue essay, 'Selected Paintings 2001 – 2006, Lismore Regional
'With great concentration and ever burgeoning talent, McDonald
paints the God of small things, working a sense of calm and intimacy into his
art. The breadth of McDonalds subject matter has imaginatively crept under his
studio door. Consistent in his work however are the golden threads of quality
and intimacy, threads that have defined McDonald's oeuvre, and which he
continues to cultivate"
– Michael Reid, The Australian