Jason McLean: Soda Gardner
Wilding Cran Gallery, Los Angeles
January 17 - February 28, 2015
By SHANA NYS DAMBROT, JAN. 2015
There is a lot going on in the big city. And because it’s about life in the big city, there is a lot going on in Jason McLean’s art. There’s a lot of stuff in it, too -- like, besides the entanglements of cartographic, diaristic images and writings, actual things, foreign objects. And an installation of it is a fairly madcap affair involving mixed media collage, assemblage, arrangements, and organizations and a kaleidoscopic array of found and original images, found and crafted objects, embellishments, textures, scratches, papers, photographs, unhinged doors, papier-mache, flea market frames, and historical ephemera. He also makes zines, mail art, and sound works.
From major works like “Fascinating Life Stories of Famous People” which are executed on full-size wooden door panels and contain xeroxes, found letters, postcards, as well as work in paint and ink; to a hilarious and smartly juvenile series of altered pro-sports trading cards; to an elaborate assortment of eccentric objects laid out like some kind of loot or hall of fame display; to the many smaller framed works that read partly like studies for the bigger pieces yet are remarkably self-contained as sweetheart image objects -- all of McLean’s works demonstrate a strong instinct for the visual puns and unexpected patterns that present themselves on a regular basis in the world around us. The combination of obsessiveness bordering on the neurotic with an obvious joy taken in the process is disarming and infectious. The rhythm of the work is more absorbed than discerned, it makes sense he’d also work in sound, because an understanding of the work accumulates into clarity at its own pace. Sort of like Los Angeles -- the city that inspired the majority of the newest work, although McLean lives in Brooklyn.
The saturation, density and unconventionality of the materials that greets visitors entering his exhibition at Wilding Cran gives an initial impression of an outsider savant -- some kind of hybrid of an urban, street-informed sensibility merged with a folkish, self-taught urgency. A little Basquiat, a little Steadman, a little Terry Allen (especially with all the baseball imagery), a kind of technicolor Pettibon, and a vaguely Eastern European way of handling expressive line-drawing and text as both story and graphic elements. As far as content, he deftly merges personal and observed experiences, particularly tied to time and place. He is influenced by -- no, he actively courts the influence of -- his environments, even as certain transcendent memories of, say, baseball games endure. For this reason, his works are often seen as a kind of allegorical mapping project, one that simultaneously charts his progress through the world, through art history, and through his own private life. And -- just like with a complicated, detailed map -- what first seems overwhelming eventually settles into legible, helpful, detail the more time one spends roaming across its surface and diving in closer at one’s leisure, when something catches the eye’s attention. They are full of surprises. WM
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Flaunt, Art and Cake, Artillery, and Palm Springs Life.
She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She is a member of ArtTable and the LA Press Club, and sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.
Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff
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