An Interview with Jason McLean

November 6th, 2012

Jason McLean’s diverse practice includes sculpture, sound works, zines, book works, mixed-media installations, correspondence art, puppets and performance but he is probably best known for his complex, diaristic and surreal drawings. He says his work “taps into the world of my mind” and across a variety of media he creates a web of tangential messages that incorporate text and imagery alluding to quotidian events, pop culture references, music lyrics, inside jokes, and friends and family into a semi-automatic map of his inner world and daily life. His work contains an incredibly wide range of references and influences – from his children’s art to On Kawara post cards to MLB baseball to the design on boxes of frozen pizza. This former Vancouverite has moved back to his home province of Ontario where he has an upcoming solo exhibition at Jessica Bradley Gallery, Toronto, which will feature drawings and sculptures fashioned from found objects he has completely transformed. We asked Jason a few questions about his fascinating work:

Jason McLean, been there, 2012 (detail)
1.5 x 3.3/4″ each unframed
acrylic ink on 12 cigar cards
Courtesy the artist and Jessica Bradley Gallery

Here and Elsewhere: Your work contains a lot of personal references to people you know and your neighbourhood – do you think it’s accurate to call it a visual diary of sorts? A lot of your drawings seem to act like a “mental map”, if that makes sense?

Jason McLean: I don’t really keep a diary…my work has a diaristic feel to it…that it what folks have said. I just make the work – I never really run out of ideas – the mapping probably started in Vancouver walking around with my friend Darrin (aka Uncle Porkchop) killing time and exploring, reading BC history and researching my old neighbourhood of Strathcona. A few years ago I got included in a show on mapping at the Confederation Centre in PEI called Curb Appeal curated by Shauna McCabe – she saw this in my work. I guess I was doing this mapping work without even realizing what I was doing. My work at times is very automatic and taps into the world of my mind –the drawings are like a web with strands linking sampled texts of paths and directions with daily messages and insights.

Jason McLean, the secret to living, 2012
acrylic ink on paper
22 x 30” unframed
Courtesy the artist and Jessica Bradley Gallery

HE: Your drawings often interweave text, you create artist books and we know you also collected found writing when you lived in the Strathcona neighbourhood of Vancouver. Can you tell us a bit about your interest in and use of text?

JM: I was very wary of using text in my works. I started using works as word play or perhaps concrete poetry influenced heavily by Ray Johnson and Jean-Michel Basquiat and others like bp nichol and underground comics. And local friends Pete Thompson and Marc Bell. Also through nonsensical mail art correspondences. I have probably made over 100 small press books or now called zines – very addictive to make and at times used as a late night option to go to Kinkos instead of going to the casino. I did take a four year break thinking I was too old for this kind of thing (zines) – but the chance to give things away and sell objects for a few dollars to counteract the big dollar sign of the art world followed and trips to the Xerox shop were due. I have a wooden suitcase influenced by Tony Urquhart that contains years of found writing mainly found in the downtown eastside. Tragic stuff, very harsh content, some of the letters and scraps I really wonder why I keep this stuff when I go through the collection…

Jason McLean, save it for a rainy day, 2012
acrylic ink on paper
22 x 30″ unframed
Courtesy the artist and Jessica Bradley Gallery

HE: Much of your work is very visually dense and involves a complex layering of ideas, personal allusions as well as references to people, places and pop culture. Do you plan out much of your work in advance or does it evolve more organically and in the moment?

JM: It depends on the project really. Sometimes I work with the spills and the fold in the paper. Sometimes there is a theme…usually these drawings/sculptures/books are much stiffer. Free drawing, automatic use of line and text, sampled music lyrics the baseball game on the radio with a commercial break that is odd – it all works into the puzzle. Sometimes it is a downer – health, mood, dark cloud, pondering on life with heavy content. Often my drawings are only understood when you know me.

Jason McLean, blank mirror, 2012
acrylic ink on mirror, collage, fabric tape
13 x 10″
Courtesy the artist and Jessica Bradley Gallery

HE: From our past discussions, we know you’re fond of artists like Raymond Pettibon and Jean-Michel Basquiat. It’s always interesting to hear whose work artists are interested in – whose work you’re currently looking at?

JM: Hmmm…I am looking at my kid’s art Henry and Felix and Felix’s pez collection, a lot of the art at Paul Bright’s Bright Lyons shop in Cobble Hill and Devin Flynn and Brian Bellot’s collage books. Geoffrey Farmer and Gareth Moore always inspire me as does some of the programming at Cooper Cole Gallery, the book Electric Banana, Omer Arbel , bill bissett and bp Nichol, concrete poetry, the music and the art of Andrew Zukerman and the store Time Machine in NYC. Molly Zukerman-Hartung and Rashid Johnson too – I saw shows of theirs in Chicago this summer. As well the store Economy Candy (the look and the smell), Andy Kaufmann, MLB baseball, the album In A Landscape by John Cage 1948 (my fav), Mark Delong’s humour, the covers of offerings newspaper and Chicago imagists. I like the colours of the fall in Ontario. Probably the thing that has influence my art more than any other artist is and and the search for being happy where I am. Oh and stamp art, I have been really into finding bottle caps too and their design, cigar cards, and 1930’s German movie star cigarette cards.

Jason McLean, epic 8000
acrylic ink, acrylic paint, collage with spraypaint
16 x 14 x 3.5″
Courtesy the artist and Jessica Bradley Gallery

Sometimes I’m more into objects owned by artists as much as their artwork…On Kawara postcards, poetry by my mom, Darrin Mac (Uncle Porkchop)’s noise guitar designs…Lego. Oh and I have a real interest in pizza boxes – frozen pizza boxes – the design, not sure who does these McCains? New York Ninja restaurant design, whoever designed the floors and walls of Dylan’s Candy Bar, though this shop is for yuppies! And I also am looking at artists that use display cases in their work. I have been looking at acupuncture charts too. Ok I should stop…hahaha all true!

HE: Thanks, Jason, for sharing this insight into your work!

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