Jason McLean

Jason McLean
Michael Gibson Gallery
London, Ontario
November 6 – 28, 2015

London, Ontario native Jason McLean’s solo exhibition Son of a Salesman brings together a coherent narrative of the artist’s past and present. Working primarily in acrylic ink and ink on paper, McLean’s recent works tend to focus on life events over the past year, primarily his transition from London to Los Angeles and, ultimately, Brooklyn, New York. While many of the works in Son of a Salesman reference imagery of travel through the imaginary, McLean’s piece BFSP (Big Fish Small Pond, all works 2015) is one that directly touches on his move to New York. In this piece, McLean is, presumably, the big fish with London being the small pond. The pond, which depicts both London and New York, acts as the top bowl of an hourglass in which small remnants can be seen having fallen to the bottom, imagery questioning whether or not he and his family’s departure from London to the congested art-mecca of New York City has his time as a big fish running out, or if the work itself is the big fish?

The concept of fame and the idea of the wandering traveler are prevalent throughout McLean’s current body of work. In pieces such as Slow Drip Needed, McLean recalls a trip he took to Pittsburgh and, in a sense, invites the viewer along with him, leading them through the streets he travelled and the sites he visited, such as the Warhol Museum and the Civic Arena. While Warhol is referenced in a literal sense through the depiction of the Warhol Museum, less apparent references such as the Campbell’s Soup book and the Heinz bottle allude to Warhol’s iconic Pop art and, perhaps, a Warholian influence on McLean’s own work. Through references to Pittsburgh’s iconic institutions, and local geographical, industrial and commercial landscapes, the viewer is granted a glimpse into McLean’s travels and how he navigates the world around him. Near the top of Slow Drip Needed there is a quote that reads ‘But then you’re in Pittsburgh’. With this quote McLean is referencing a personal conversation he had with his wife about low housing costs in Pittsburgh. On first glance, these powerful pieces are filled with colour, bold lines and striking figures but, as the viewer begins to look closer at each figure and form, the content takes over, and the initial visual attraction to the bright and bold becomes lesser in its importance. In pieces such as Laid Back Notes and Letterman’s Done, it is the content, personal narrative and visual depiction of ephemera that become the focal points.

With Laid Back Notes, we see a continuation of the concept of the travelling artist. In it, McLean creates what he describes as a Picasso-esque head tied up while hand drawn maps, which McLean has recreated from his own directional notes, detail the routes that he himself has wandered and used as a means to engage with New Yorkers. Stylistically speaking, this work is different from McLean’s other pieces in that the content is more composed and deliberate than the free association of many of his other works. Letterman’s Done again touches on McLean’s travels – in this case to the Ed Sullivan Theater where he obtained celebrity autographs for pieces in his and his sons’ ongoing project Felix and Henry’s Canadian Pez Museum.

Throughout McLean’s work, there are insights into his sense of humour, which are often playfully presented to the viewer. However, there is also a sense that there is more to the story. His works often incorporate visual representations of past ephemera while simultaneously referencing current events and societal narrative, posing the question: what’s next for McLean, his family, his works and the viewer?