The Scottish Artist Reimagining UK Pop Culture

Glaswegian artist Trackie McLeod weighs in on TV culture, Scottish patriotism and what we can learn from tapping into nostalgia.

Writer: Jade Wickes Photographer: Alexander James-Aylin Styling: Studio Sadeo
Photographer: Alexander James-Aylin

Trackie McLeod has been feeling a little under the weather this week. “I’ve got soup here and I’ve been watching some shit TV,” he says in a thick, charming Glaswegian accent, Zooming in from his home in the city. He’s been consuming copious amounts of Heinz Scotch Broth and the infamous mid-2000s British reality series 10 Years Younger in an effort to speed up his recovery: “I’ll bounce back!”

Funnily enough, these two things encapsulate much of what McLeod’s work is all about. Over the last few years, he’s carved out a reputation for being one of the UK’s most irreverent emerging artists. His work is unapologetically British, dripping in humorous irony, and concerns itself with deconstructing concepts of masculinity, lad culture, queerness and how nostalgia informs our consumption of, well, everything.

Via subverted Renaissance paintings, witty collages and compelling graphics proclaiming the likes of “MAN ON TWO DAY BENDER CLAIMS: ‘IT’S A BAG OF CANS, NOT A BAG OF CAN’TS’,” McLeod deftly unpicks the reality of being a young gay man in contemporary Britain. The 29-year-old never takes himself too seriously, but underneath all the tongue-in-cheek humor and uniquely Scottish patter, his work has deeply personal undertones. 

'No One Likes A Grass' (2022)   Artwork: Trackie McLeod
Trackie McLeod, Glasgow (2022)   Photographer: Alexander James-Aylin, Styling: Studio Sadeo

How has growing up in Glasgow shaped you into the person and artist you are today?

I had a very standard, traditional working-class upbringing. I didn’t want for anything, and anything that I did want, I worked for, which set me up with a good work ethic. My family definitely put that onto us as children—they’re all grafters [UK slang for a hard worker].

I think growing up in Glasgow has made me quite patriotic and resilient. Scotland’s a natural underdog within the UK, and now, a lot of my English friends would rather be Scottish because England has proven itself to be a bit of a shitshow. Glasgow is quite harsh and cold, quite dreich [bleak], but underneath all that, it’s got a heart of gold.

What impact did growing up in a household of women have on you?

That was a big influence. My sister moved out when she was quite young, so it was me and my mum for the good majority of [my life]. They helped build a safe environment where I could be 100% myself, which has given me some of my best qualities: to be softer, kinder, to listen. Perseverance.

'Man of the House' (2022)   Artwork: Trackie McLeod

Between graduating from the Glasgow School of Art all the way up to now, can you talk me through what you’d consider major career milestones?

The last year has been a bit of a dream. I quit the full-time retail job I had for five years. I fucking hated it. From there I managed to carve out a career path on my own. I’ve really found my voice and been able to amplify it. That started with my solo exhibition, “MILK, LEMONADE, CHOCOLATE.” Its themes were very autobiographical and involved me talking quite publicly about my queerness through art. I went on to do a short BBC documentary about that where I was very open. That experience was very therapeutic and knocked down a bit of a wall within myself. 

How did the pandemic affect your creative process and you as a person?

I know a lot of people who thrived creatively in the pandemic, but personally, I found it really hard. I hit rock bottom and struggled to get out of bed most days. That probably came down to not addressing a lot of stuff mental health-wise, especially when you’ve got a lot of time on your own. It sent me a bit west.

Sitting on Instagram, seeing people do all this work, acting like everything’s normal, made me question my career path. Am I built to be a full-time artist? Is it going to be feasible? The pandemic gave me a lot of time to think and worry. Looking back, it pushed me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to prioritize what I was passionate about. But it also took me to the darkest places. I wouldn’t go back, let’s put it that way.

Trackie McLeod, Glasgow (2022)   Photographer: Alexander James-Aylin, Styling: Studio Sadeo

Over the years, a major theme within your art has been masculinity: What it looks like in contemporary culture, what it means to you and your peers. Has your personal relationship to masculinity changed or evolved since you started making work?

That’s a great question. It’s totally changed and I’m at an age where masculinity is less in the forefront of my work. I’m just having fun now. My previous work was a way for me to address toxicity I’d experienced at the hands of others. I started with that in 2017, which wasn’t that long ago, but at that point I hadn’t seen many other examples of artists that were discussing those themes from a queer perspective, at least ones from the early 2000s. I’m not saying no one had done that, but what I was doing felt quite personal. I was using humor to take the edge off of that, to protect myself.

In 2022, lots of young artists on Instagram are discussing their own experience of masculinity, which I love. I’m part of a collective called Boys Don’t Cry, where lots of young lads get together and talk about their experiences, good and bad. I’ve made peace with my own struggles and that work has closed a chapter. I’m inspired by other things now.

Artwork: Trackie McLeod

Pop culture is also a big thing for you. What’s making you tick right now, pop culture-wise? 

My interest in it is like a weird back catalog of obscure knowledge from ’95 to 2010. I yearn for these old TV shows. I’m not on TikTok or anything, so I get quite a lot of my pop culture from watching telly. I’m a Celebrity…  Shame on me! It’s car-crash telly.

There’s no shame in that. People tend to look down on reality TV and celebrity culture as low-brow, or they don’t think of them as worthwhile social commentary. What do you make of that? 

I’ve often referenced trashy TV and celebrity culture because they were a queer awakening for me. Big Brother, for example, there were a lot of queer people on it. It was showcasing people from all walks of life that I’d never ever seen before; that you wouldn’t get in Glasgow. The crassness of the early noughties was a big part of growing up and being queer in the UK. Anyone who looks down their nose at that, I leave them to it. It’s pretty classist. British culture is more than just tea and biscuits. 

Trackie McLeod, Glasgow (2022)   Photographer: Alexander James-Aylin, Styling: Studio Sadeo

Describe nostalgia.

I think I’m still trying to work out my own relationship with something that’s so heavily themed in my work. People might see it as bittersweet, but I don’t think that’s the case for me. It’s more of a comfort blanket. I think it gives a context to memories, it helps us understand ourselves, our past and our culture as well.

What would you like for people to take from your work?

Relatability or familiarity. We’ve all got different lived experiences, but I want the work I make to be for everyone.