The good, the bad, and the ugly: A studio visit with Niall McClelland

Last year we were drawn in by Niall McClelland’s first solo show at Clint Roenisch gallery, for which he produced mainly paper and fabric-based works which had been folded and re-folded, inked, stained, bleached, and otherwise pushed around and abused. Unfolded, shaken out, and hung or draped to various degrees of looseness, they wore their cracks, folds, and stains with a hard-won pride and stark material beauty.

Last night we had the pleasure of visiting McClelland’s studio with the Ministry of Artistic Affairs. Speaking on the surprises and discoveries he has made in the course of rolling paint onto cheap dropcloths or spraying it over smashed light bulbs among other things, McClelland has developed a process-oriented way of making which is simultaneously rooted in the physical (experiments with materials, actions, and the effects of things like time, weather, friction and force) and the philosophical (engaging intuition, editing, and a constant questioning of when something is good, or right, or finished, and what ultimately qualifies as art and not just someone else’s trash, or vice versa).

Along the way, McClelland embraces the failures, mistakes, and downright ugly outcomes that inevitably result from such an open-ended process. Some of those failures do get trashed, others relegated to the “maybe later” pile, and a select few manage to transcend ugly and become re-categorized as art in a way that rarely happens in other visual fields like design. For McClelland, ugliness can be a quality that hints at a greater beauty yet to be discovered, and he clearly relishes being an explorer of this lesser known territory.

See more at Niall McClelland’s website
News and a few great process shots at McClelland’s blog, SWORDS
Images from McClelland’s 2011 show, Highest Prices Paid for Gold, at Clint Roenisch
Event information from the Ministry of Artistic Affairs website

images, from top to bottom:
Niall McClelland, Highest Prices Paid for Gold, exhibition view, Clint Roenisch Gallery, 2011; Trash – Overcast, spraypaint and broken light bulbs on canvas, 72″ x 48″, 2011; Backwards, acrylic on canvas, 64″ x 48″, 2012  

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