Rob McLeish is fascinated by the image of the gymnast, returning to it constantly in recent years in drawing, collage and sculpture. He sees in gymnastics the tension between the aspiration for universal perfection and the inevitability of bodily decay. In Gainer (2014), a gymnastics term referring to the act of performing a backwards somersault whilst moving forward, images of gymnasts, silkscreened on sheets of white coated aluminium, are twisted and turned, replicating their movement when in full flight. The violence and severity of the crumpling acts as a metaphor for the tension and stress that both the body and the equipment it is engaged with are placed under during a routine. The positioning of these folded sheets as supports for the larger steel structures to which they are attached is a further analogy of the fine line between perfection and decay. The dexterity and contorted image of the gymnast's body and equipment have strong compositional elements lending themselves to the sculptural medium. McLeish pays homage to the art historical canon, in particular minimalist sculpture. A set of uneven bars is deconstructed and simplified to a sparse steel structure standing in the middle of the composition. A precariously balanced rod which pierces a folded gym mat is an example of formalist sculpture recalling the work of Richard Serra and Carl Andre. The replica gym mats, easily identifiable, echo Donald Judd's monotone and industrially made stacks. McLeish has continually challenged audiences with work that oscillates between the figurative and the abstract, useful and uselessness and beauty and brutality. He seeks to challenge notions of idealism and perfection which are often attached to creativity, instead making work which is ambiguous, contradictory and often in tension.


  • Title: Gainer
  • Creator: Rob McLeish
  • Date Created: 2014
  • Physical Dimensions: 6 components, installation (variable): 230 x 300 x 300 cm
  • Rights: Courtesy the artist and Neon Parc, Melbourne
  • Medium: steel, screenprint on aluminium, epoxy resin, epoxy clay

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