McClelland, who has been living and working in Toronto over the past several years, has spent much of his time escaping the city to create work at a friend's cabin in the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario. A rural, wild, picturesque landscape on the west shores of Lake Huron, his experiences there brought to mind the history of Canadian art and the possibilities of contributing to that dialogue. In Bruce to Brock and Back, McClelland presents abstract and ephemeral paintings, works on paper, and sculptures that continue the investigations of landscape and territory and the visual markings that can trace history.
In Canada, there is a cadre of artists from 1920 to 1933 referred to as, The Group of Seven - sometimes known as the Algonquin School. Believing that a distinct Canadian form of art could be developed through direct contact with nature, these artists were famous for their paintings inspired by the landscape. While these artists were highly regarded for their contributions to Canadian art history, they also received criticism for their reinforcement of terra nullius, presenting the region as pristine and untouched by humans when in fact the areas depicted had been lived on for many centuries.
Much like The Group of Seven artists, McClelland shares an appreciation for rugged, unkempt natural scenery, but unlike them he holds the same appreciation for the beauty and mysteries found in the industrial urban landscape as well. The process in which McClelland creates his work is not an idealization of nature but one of alchemical evidence and capture. In some instances he left unstretched canvas and linen attached to trees, docks, rafts, and the cabin to weather outside over the summer and capture the residue of the physical material to imbue the cloth with a tracing of the landscape.
In addition to leaving work to weather at the cabin, he actively searched for discarded material in his industrial Toronto neighborhood to repurpose and recontextualize. The found objects have the imbued essence, or trace of his urban surroundings that parallels the traces imbued in the work left to nature's will up north.
Through his practice, McClelland subverts readily accessible and familiar materials and rudimentary processes to produce works that literally reflect the mechanics and incidental beauty resulting from the physicality of process. The visible markings in the final works, upon closer inspection, simply reflect evidence of the very physical actions and matter from which they are made. They are grounded in the real world, in the here and now.
Niall McClelland (b.1980) grew up in Toronto, went to school in Vancouver B.C and eight years later returned to Toronto where he now lives. His work has been published in Adbusters, Canadian Art, Modern Painters, and The White Review among others. Recent exhibitions include Trans/Form at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art(Toronto), One Tune Outta Turn at Eleanor Harwood (San Francisco); Highest Prices Paid for Gold at Clint Roenisch (Toronto), Like Minded at Plug-In ICA (Winnipeg) and Magic for Beginnners at P.P.O.W (New York).