Blazing through mediums ranging from screen-printed jerseys, AstroTurf, fine jewellery and neon signs, Trackie McLeod often emblazes his art with charged language, producing idiosyncratic palimpsests. His work is fresh and biting and quite tongue and cheek. The young artist just rounded out his first solo show exhibition, Milk Chocolate Lemonade, at The Pipe Factory in Glasgow, the city in which he has spent his life thus far. His practice is highly personal and is thus specific to his background as a working-class, queer man from Glasgow. Yet his pieces are often in discourse with global phenomena, particularly those emerging from hyper-masculine social cultures.
One such example of this is his work with the United Kingdom artist collective, Boys Don't Cry Collective, which discusses issues around male mental health and lad culture. In a distinctly humoured conversation, McLeod talks to us about masculinity, where he finds inspiration and references for his work and his relationship to his hometown.
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Could you tell us a bit about yourself? Where are you from?
I'm an artist, storyteller and culture vulture from Glasgow (Scotland).
What is the story of your name?
A daft nickname that has its origins in a 2-day bender back in 2014. I can't remember the rest, you'll need to ask Mark Thompson...
Congrats on finishing up your first solo show! What was the experience like?
Cheers! It was a lot of hard graft and the realisation of a concept that had been brewing in me for years, so it was nice to finally get out of my head and turn it into something physical. It was a cathartic experience for me. I'm happy (and relieved!) that it had its moment and I hope it moved people in some way.
Could you tell us a bit about the thematic concerns of Milk Lemonade Chocolate?
It's a body of work that explored what was integral to my life aged 13 when I was on the cusp of adolescence. The show touched on themes of ingrained masculinity, sexuality and sectarianism, and I used pop culture references to help unlock memories of the people and places that helped shape my artistic practice and my Glaswegian identity.
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You said once that you take inspiration from the everyday, this is certainly apparent in your work’s references. I was wondering if you could tell us a bit about what Glasgow’s everyday is like?
Ian Brown of the Stone Roses once said: “It's not a struggle being in a group making your own records. A struggle is when you live in Glasgow, and you've got no job and there are miles of grey stone concrete. That's a struggle.” I mean, he's not wrong. It also rains a lot and everything's deep-fried. But we're a funny lot and never short on good patter so, you know, swings and roundabouts.
I love your eclectic collections of references on Instagram. I was wondering how you organise your references?
I'm a fountain of unnecessary knowledge when it comes to shit like reality TV and bad music, so since 2021, I've been doing a monthly nostalgia dump of my inspirations on Instagram as a way of organising them and sharing them. I always rate when artists are open and honest about what makes them tick and what drives them.
You have done a bit of modelling in the past and your work often references apparel design. Do you have any interest in fashion design?
Currently, I'm working within my skill set and customising clothing – always with my own taste in mind... How can I ‘Trackie’ this? I like to elevate what's already there. One of my more recent works How To Spot A Fake Lacoste (2022) was my take on using an existing Slazenger tracksuit and making it look as bootleg as possible with Lacoste patches and reflective appliques and screen-printed neon ink. This was all in admiration of a time when fake tracksuits were considered a fashion crime, and if that's the case I'm a fashion criminal. Clothing will always be one of my first loves, and I have a long line of glamorous women in my family to thank for that.
Your work is so multidisciplinary. How do you approach a new medium when you begin thinking about new pieces?
I normally approach a new medium with no thought at all. I'm keen to learn, and I like being resourceful and playful, so it normally always works out. And if it doesn't, it is an opportunity to reach out to someone who does know what they are doing and learn from them. Working with other creatives is what it's all about, developing your own network to bounce off of.
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Are there any mediums you are excited to further explore?
Despite my design background, my work has always teetered more towards fine art and exploring the blending of the two, so I'm looking forward to creating more installations and spaces. One thing I learned from my solo show was the importance of creating an atmosphere and thinking about the scale of my work and its environment, so I'm working on some interactive larger works just in time for festival season, so watch this space.
Your piece, Crossmyloof (2021) speaks to me as a really good example of how your work appropriates or reclaims references and words to illustrate aspects of culture you interrogate. Do you see pieces like this as wearable or purely art objects?
Art is subjective. As long as it tells its story and speaks to you in some way, I've done my job. If that means it's hanging in your living room or you use it as paper for roaches, then so be it. Crossmyloof was auctioned off in 2021 with the profits going to LGBTQI+ charities, so it now lives outside of a gallery space and in the real world. For me that's exciting.
Your film Understanding: Masculinity seemed like a perfect example of an essay film. Something most essay films share is the creator’s voiceover. Do we hear Trackie in this film? Why or why not?
Understanding: Masculinity was made after I finished art school in 2018 and I wanted to create something that gave context to the work on toxic masculinity I'd been making. I referenced people who I was inspired by, and that made it easy for me to just agree with them – I don't really think I'd found my own voice yet. Thinking back, I wasn't really addressing how autobiographical the work was, and I didn't understand yet that really the only context it needed was my own.
I have seen reference to Paris is Burning, the documentary about the New York ballroom scene from the ‘80s, a couple of times throughout your work and on your socials. What draws you to the film?
It's a ‘real’ look into queer culture and the people who paved the way for us, so it's got a special place in my heart. If you haven't watched it, get it added to your list.
Are there other films that have been influential in your life and work?
I once wrote what I would describe as a below-par dissertation on Representations of working-class men in British Social Realist cinema looking at Shane Meadows's This Is England and Ken Loach's Sweet Sixteen. I'm a bit of a sucker for anything that feels true to life, that addresses the social, political or historical context of working-class culture. I'm also a big Danny Boyle fan, love The Beach and will, of course, continue to reference Trainspotting until I'm pan breed (dead).
You talk about lad culture a lot in your work often. I think we have similar phenomena throughout the world but was wondering if you could define what you see as lad culture. What distinguishes United Kingdom lad culture from other forms of toxic masculinity?
It is complex because not all lad culture is toxic and not all toxic masculinity is ‘laddy.’ I think lad culture can, of course, breed toxic masculinity but it doesn't always. It is also difficult to easily label United Kingdom lad culture because it differs from town to town, city to city and country to country. Maybe a polo shirt with the collar up is a common denominator though?
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I was wondering if you could talk a bit about your work with Boys Don't Cry Collective, what has the experience been of finding people with similar artistic and social concerns?
Like every good relationship, we found each other over Instagram. Community comes in all shapes and sizes, so it's good to know there are folks out there actively wanting to open up the conversation about male mental health further. Despite the long-distance, I'm grateful for this lot and look forward to grabbing a pint together soon and putting the world to rights.
So far, I believe you have put on shows exclusively in the UK, do you have interests in expanding globally, or is making work locally more important for you currently?
Don't get me wrong, I love Glasgow, but not a lot changes here, not quickly enough for me anyway. It'll always be home, but I know it's important to step out of your comfort zone and try somewhere different – so aye, maybe if I say it enough times out loud, I'll actually do it. So much of my artistic identity is rooted in place, and that place is Glasgow, but fundamentally all the issues I explore and that I am passionate about are human and so they'll travel. Next stop, Trackie worldwide tour! Any recommendations?
What's next for Trackie?
Keep riding the wave, closely followed by world domination, of course.
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