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‘I have an interest in oral history and urban development,’ says renowned multimedia artist and Fine Arts grad

G. Scott MacLeod’s art can be found in the private collections of Jane Goodall and TV personality Rick Mercer
June 5, 2019
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By Richard Burnett

Farine Five Roses From The Death and Life of Griffintown: 21 stories by G. Scott MacLeod

Internationally acclaimed multimedia artist G. Scott MacLeod, BFA (studio arts – printmaking) 03, MA (art ed.) 13, is a true Montreal original — even though he was born in Red Deer, Alta. and lived in Cape Breton, N.S., before moving to Montreal with his family in 1969.

His works are in many permanent institutional collections, such as the National Gallery of Canada, as well as in countless private collections, including those of world-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall and Canadian TV personality Rick Mercer.

Yet the multimedia artist, documentary filmmaker, singer-songwriter and animator is happiest when his work contributes to a deeper appreciation of Canada.

MacLeod, who is an affiliate at the Concordia University Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling, recently sat down for a candid Q&A about his sterling career.

Concordia: You say your aim is to promote education, art and culture. Why is this important?

GSM: I’ve been a visual artist for a good 30 years now. The early years were deeply focused on my visual arts practice. And the deeper I got into it, the more pedagogy I did. I want my exhibitions to convey a story of historical relevance to Canada, everything from Indigenous people to Terry Fox. I want to use art to pull the kids in. I think there was something missing in the curriculum when I was a kid, and I feel I can use my art as a platform for change.

Were you always drawn to art?

GSM: Yes. I remember when I was kid, when my mom was taking course at John Abbott College, she brought home her first oil painting. It was a Rocky Mountains and foothills landscape. I asked, ‘Mom, can I do a copy of your painting?’

So she set up a little easel, brushes and oil paints and I attempted my copy of her painting. To her credit, that Christmas there were art supplies under the Christmas tree. That’s how it began.

Which artistic discipline brings you the most joy?

G. Scott MacLeod The work of multimedia artist G. Scott MacLeod can be found in the private collections of Jane Goodall and TV personality Rick Mercer. | Photo: Sergio Veranes

GSM: I always go back to drawing. I’ve always been attracted to making a practice in drawing. But since I’ve ended up in filmmaking, which is the core of my work now, I do a lot of animation. At 54, I’m still holding a pencil over my desk!

Film is a composite of all my interests – there is animation, there is music. I have collaborated with the National Film Board on seven films which are targeted at educational markets. They are sold to libraries and schools. Education is my focus.

You are a co-founder of NDG Arts Week held in the Montreal district of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG). Why did you get involved?

GSM: I was  invited to do the Westmount Art Walk and it occurred to me, “Why don’t we have this in NDG? Because I live in NDG and I know so many local artists – filmmakers, musicians, crafters. So we started NDG Arts Week in 2010 with $500.

You also worked with singer-songwriter and fellow NDG Arts Week co-founder Paul Cargnello on the EMPRESS BLUE - An animation video about the historic abandoned Empress Theatre in NDG.

GSM: Yes, Paul helped produce the song and also performed on it as well. I was the artist-in-residence at the McAuslan Brewery and I wanted to honour the history of the Empress Theatre, which others may remember as the old Cinema V. I used to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show there! Sadly, I don’t know what the future of that building will be, though it is back in the news.

Why did you create the series of short films called The Death and Life of Griffintown: 21 stories?

GSM: I have an interest in oral history and urban development and did my master’s thesis on [the Montreal neighbourhood] Griffintown. In this project, I gave voice to the people. I wanted people who live there now to understand that their condos are on top of a post-industrial neighbourhood that slaved for the greater good of the big economies and big businesses — the Lachine Canal included — that helped birth Canada. And there is the Irish connection, with the Irish coming here in the 1840s during the famine years.

As a singer-songwriter, you are also part of the great Canadian storyteller tradition.

GSM: A lot of my American friends talk about Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen, who all moved to America — but they all come from that great Canadian storytelling tradition. I was deeply influenced by those ’60s folkies and by my love of Canadian history. We should pay better homage to who we are.

How did your time and studies at Concordia help shape you and your career?

GSM: Concordia is where I met a core group of artists and musicians in my early days hanging out at Foufounes Electriques and Station 10. It was a strong network. I also met senior artists who taught me the business. Then, during my master’s, I really learned the rigours of research and writing while completing my thesis, tools that have served me well ever since.

For more about G. Scott MacLeod, visit macleod9.com.



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