Keith Maclelland Battles Societal Issues
“Monster Cowboys” is the intriguing title that artist and teacher Keith MacLelland uses to describe his current body of work, consisting of exuberantly colorful mixed-media collages, figurative yet abstract, all rendering the theme of “Good Battling Evil.” The impetus of these artworks was originally rooted in wrangler-lore of the American southwest but, alas, no sing-along cowboys ride into the sunset.
In his “Hero Cowboys” exhibition at Milton Academy’s Nesto Gallery, MacLelland’s iconographic works are provocative and astoundingly deliberative in tackling pivotal, current-day societal issues including the dire consequences of consumer trash and environmental pollution.
MacLelland’s eyes lit up when he reflected upon his days growing up as an only child on bucolic Cape Cod, where he immersed himself in endless hours of doodling, mostly about heroes — from those who wore ten gallon hats and chaps with spurs on their boots to cape-wearing heroes who flew faster than a speeding bullet or fought crime in Gotham City.
Years later, MacLelland’s artwork-heroes have morphed into an abstraction and amalgamation of all comic-book heroes. They are not only muscular and powerful, but also individualistic, noble and determined — and focused on wrestling with entrenched global problems arising from pervasive, reckless corporate greed detrimental to society.
MacLelland’s Monster Cowboys are intelligent and unrelenting advocates with an unyielding social conscience. He sees each Monster Cowboy hero as an iconic guardian and sentry fighting against the negativity of misled human values and behavior, rather than the narrow notion of fighting against a single deranged villain like The Joker.
His images are figurative, identifiable by the distorted but familiar contour of a muscular, standing figure in action; within and bursting through the body contour is a blank canvas for heads-up messages, festooned with an astounding array of colors and patterns. There is a variety of bits and pieces of paper, cardboard, ink, paint, rhinestones, silver studs, glitter, tape and glue, all merging into a sparkling abstraction of primary color, texture and movement that momentarily screams for equal attention beyond the contour boundary of the action figure.
One of the 20 pieces of his work that will be displayed at Milton Academy is “Blue Chested Cowboy,” a recycled 42” x 34” mixed- media collage. One sees jagged yells and angry grunting words dart out from the hero’s wide opened mouth showing rows of serrated shark’s teeth. The Monster Cowboy’s head is usually proportionally enlarged as the face is obscured by a mask with cutout eye and mouth holes, reminiscent of those monstermasks worn by beefy wrestlers of the World Wrestling Federation.
MacLelland said that his process is extremely fluid; he sketches, then photocopies the image to enlarge it, putting aside a stack for later use, as he may apply a mirror-image of just the arms, torso or legs, pushing and pulling its placement until he settles on his desired visual impact. The majority of the collage-pieces are discarded candy wrappers, food packaging, hot sauce bottle labels, juice cartons and scratch tickets. He considers the staggering glut of non-biodegradable, plastic consumer-trash a huge global problem, as is the overt, insatiable greed that dictates clear-cutting of forests, health-threatening air pollution, and oil spills from ocean floor drilling; these are the kind of evil threatening the eco-system and mankind’s survival against which Monster Cowboys wages war.