Niall McClelland

Niall McClelland Interview - By Steven Cox

HUNTED PROJECTS caught up with Toronto based artist Niall McClelland to discuss his fascination of using unorthodox materials, going for walks with his art in his pockets and how he pushes the boundaries of his chosen materials and documents such processes.

McClelland is currently on show within Trans/Form, a group exhibition curated by David Liss at Toronto's Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art which explores new inventive processes of form and the artists obsession with materiality.  McClelland's work has also been featured within Modern Painters, Canadian Art, Hunter and Cook and Adbusters.  McClelland was also included along with Ellsworth Kelly and Richard Serra in the show Black to Back and Light at Clint Roenisch Gallery in 2009.

Your creative process is reminiscent to the values and methods associated with the arte-provera movement, manipulating economic and unorthodox materials and beating them into a realm of defeated fragility. Can you discuss the fascination with your choice of materials and your applied processes?

NM: Well, yeah, I love that stuff. It really came from necessity though. Before I had any gallery interest there was no money to create the scale/amount of work I was wanted so I needed to pursue economic materials, which was no different from what I'd been doing for most of my life outside of art anyhow. It was an honest approach and the work was more powerful because of that. Material wise, at some point it became the content rather than JUST the medium. I started using material that was symbolic of personal issues, concerns and experiences and it expressed it what I wanted to in a clearer, more precise way.

Much of the time when exploring your work I have interpreted many pieces as an investigation into formalism, in the sense that you explore material and process, as opposed to being symbolically biographical. Can you highlight and discuss an early piece of work where you consciously adopted the use of a material to symbolize such issues, concerns or experiences?

NM: I try to make work that combines them both. I think the work can frequently align with structuralism (a sub sect of formalism?) in that how the art is created communicates the idea behind the art and purposely includes context as an element of the work. As an example I'd say my "Tapestry" series, which are created by beating up large sheaths of photocopies, folding them into small packets and walking with them for weeks in my pockets until the ink cracks along the fold lines exposing the white paper underneath. These pieces, which in a sense started as stand ins for black flags, are meant to be read as a continuation of the punk/d.i.y/subcultural aesthetic, removing any trace of graphics or message, leaving only the marks of my folds and movements carrying the piece throughout the city, much like the photocopied show flyers or zines of my youth.

On your blog, you openly reveal your techniques on how you produced some of your artworks, such as the Trash series, Tapestry - Dancing and Northern Lights. Do you find the mystery of how you produced your work being somewhat unimportant as you openly showcase to your audience what other artists may keep secret?

NM: I find knowing the process behind my work can sometimes help give the viewer some context to understand it. The mystery can be good too, and I go through phases where I'm more secretive and then flip around 6 months later and open up the vaults. I like when the work feels accessible in that I'm not hiding how I create it, yet it still feels surprising when they realize the process.

A large amount of your work is dark, exploring monochromatic tones and contrast through inks, charcoal, graphite, spray paints and photocopies. Though, you also created bold and vibrant pieces such as the folded ink works that included within the Highest Prices Paid for Gold show at Clint Roenisch gallery in 2011. Can you discuss your exploration into this opposing colour contrast that was manifested within this exhibition?

NM: Everything in that show came from exploring humble, inexpensive material and attempting to elevate the discoveries to something more formal. The coloured work - "Stains" are made using discarded and/or refilled printer cartridges squeezed into folded handmade paper, a process I discovered purely by accident and then just pushed further into an area I could control. I don't feel limited to b/w, so as the "Stains" series was coming from the same interest in the humble, disposable materials as the stark monochromatic work in the show, it seemed to be an interesting pairing.

Your background is very much skate, punk, metal and sub-culture orientated, how has this influenced your creative approach today?

NM: To be honest, it doesn't play a large roll anymore. At one point ideas stemmed from a sub-cultural experience, but as my work developed the ideas changed naturally and grew away from those initial entry points. There's still certain attitudes, aesthetics and approaches that are embedded from sub cultural experiences but its no longer a focal point in the work

Your commercial design studio Swords includes commissions for brands such as Jack Daniels, Burton, Nixon, Red Bull, Jeremy Laing and Stussy amongst others. Do you consider commercial projects a good opportunity for yourself to explore new creative ideas that feed back into your non-commercial work?

NM: I like to think, ideally, that the commercial work can feed the art and let me explore other creative outlets. In reality, the art feeds the commercial work and allows me the opportunity to work with teams that have more facilities available than I do. Working on commercial jobs can be a lot of fun, there's usually a good budget and teams of talented peers but its not without its frustrations and limitations. So, it doesn't really influence the artwork outside of letting me react to my frustrations with it!

Can you discuss some of your artistic influences and inspirations?

NM: My influences are frequently peers, books, family, my neighbourhood and anything I come across in my day to day, pretty basic! As far as other artists go, it changes from week to week, mostly the big shots, you know... recently though- Richard Tuttle, Blinky Palermo, Saul Steinberg, Bill Bolinger, Bryce Marden, Robert Capa... and I saw a Picasso show recently that was pretty badass. Go figure.

I watch a lot of war docs and read a lot on the subject, that plays a big role.

Are you working on any new projects that you would like to tell us about?

NM: I have an exhibit coming up in an abandoned train yard with Jeremy Jansen, a collaborative project/show with Lukas Geronimas this summer, the Hamptons ArtMrkt fair with Envoy Enterprises in July and a group show in Denver at the David B Smith gallery in early August. Plus working towards several solo shows for next year. Keeping busy.

I would also like to talk about a recent work that you posted on your website - O.P.P (Other Peoples Paintings), which consists of found used canvases and glue, is this the beginning of a new series of works?

NM: Yes and no! It's a series of work I've been making parallel to the other stuff we've been talking about. A lot of it is left out for months outside, found around the neighborhood, or stuff with a lengthier process that I've been working on for a couple years. "O.P.P" is made from some used canvases I found outside my studio, whose fronts were covered with these awful red/gold paintings. I flipped them around and thought the backs felt really great, so grimy and sparse, so I glued them together and stretched them so that the edges of the overlap formed a sort of horizon line. That gesture and the line it made felt so perfect to me, I love that sort of restraint.

Niall McClelland