Jason McLean and Ross Bell: Dad Club

Jason McLean and Ross Bell, Sandwich District, 2020, Painted Cube

Jason McLean and Ross Bell: Dad Club

June 4 – August 28, 2022
Gallery Stratford

When it comes to artists working together, the least obvious pairings can sometimes produce the most interesting results – think Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Such partnerships are about solo artists breaking away from long-held approaches to artmaking and embracing collaboration.

Such was Jason McLean’s motivation for inviting Ross Bell to participate in this exhibition, the working title of which, at the time of writing, was “Dad Art”. (Both artists are fathers.) For more than 25 years, McLean has produced paintings, drawings, collage, zines and objects of a decidedly funky, free-form and maximalist nature, the imagery rooted in pop culture, history, lived experiences and unconscious memory. He cites Art Green, a founding member of Chicago’s fantastical Hairy Who collective as an inspiration. Bell, on the other hand, is known for large-scale hard-edged sculptures that take a reductionist approach to form. He has an appreciation for Minimalists like Carl Andre. How can two artists, whose aesthetics seem poles apart, come together?

“Quite simply, Ross has abilities that I don’t have,” explains McLean. “I can’t build things like he does, so he is making the structures on which I will paint and draw. Working with Ross has been like having a handyman for a partner, someone who knows how to fix anything.” For example, Bell is building an arcade game structure in which McLean will show animations. He is also refurbishing a vintage radio cabinet to house McLean’s “Cough Park” project. Inspired by poet John Giorno’s “Dial-a-Poem” work, people are invited to call a number and leave a message about anything – a joke, a song, a poem, a recollection, a dream. To date, “Cough Park” includes recordings left by everyone from Elton John to the artist’s parents.

For Bell, the exhibition presented an opportunity to put aside his usual studio-based rules about art making. “My work is about paring back, but Jason’s isn’t about that,” he says. “I can’t wait to see how the structures I’m building are transformed by Jason painting on them. I’m also an artist who gets all the work for a show finished well in advance, but the pandemic forced us to think differently about making work together.”

An object sure to be an audience favourite is called the “Stratfordcaster”, a guitar constructed by Bell – inspired by the guitars of London, Ontario-based sculptor Murray Favro – on which McLean will likely map out Stratford’s musical legacies. According to McLean – whose practice involves researching the pop culture and social histories of where he’s exhibiting – some musicians in the legendary rock group The Band and Janis Joplin’s Full-Tilt Boogie Band have ties to the Stratford area. McLean’s “detective work” is integral to an artwork’s production, and viewers must use their own sleuthing skills to uncover the associations between the fragments of text and images. In fact, both artists’ practices require viewers to take their time: in McLean’s case to discern the thread that winds through a painting or drawing, in Bell’s case to recognize the beauty in his structures’ material qualities.

Attentive viewers will also discern abstract depictions of the body in both artists’ work. Cartoonish bodies often appear in McLean’s drawings, while an outdoor installation by Bell incorporates mook-yan-jong figures, dummies used for kung-fu practice. Ideas around corporeal and sensory experiences also inform a proposed sculpture inspired by the Dreamachine created by Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs.

“In the end, people will interact with and interpret the objects based on their own experiences and knowledge,” says Bell. And, perhaps, viewers will also leave the exhibition feeling as if they’ve just emerged from a dream.

Essay by Bill Clarke

Jason McLean (b. 1971 London, ON) creates autobiographical imagery, through scavenged objects, and memory mapping. Currently based in Brooklyn, McLean’s diverse art practice includes sculpture, sound works, zines, book works, mixed-media installations, correspondence art, curatorial explorations, puppets, and performance, however, is best known for his diarisic mapping and surreal drawings, inspired by his daily observations and relationships with local and visited environments. Grounded in his role of husband and father, McLean works by using humour to touch upon challenging subject matter, such as sadness, loss, displacement, and economic hardship. McLean attended H.B. Beal Secondary School and graduated from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. He has exhibited nationally and internationally including The National Gallery of Canada, The Vancouver Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, as well as in Venice, Sweden, New York and Los Angeles. He is represented by Michael Gibson Gallery in London, Mónica Reyes Gallery in Vancouver, Wilding Cran Gallery in Los Angeles and Van der Plas Gallery in New York.

Ross Bell is a sculptor who lives and works in London, ON with his wife and five children. Born and raised in Alberta, he received and Art and Design Diploma from Red Deer Collage, a BFA (Sculpture) University of Lethbridge, and MFA (Sculpture) University of Guelph. Bell explores established ideas about three-dimensional form that stem from the traditions of Formalist, Minimalist, and Post-Minimalist art. His imposing sculptural forms create their own idiosyncratic bridge to straddle issues of Modernity and Postmodernity. Structurally and materially, Bell explores notions of fragmentation, deconstruction and narrative. The combination of fine craftsmanship and raw, untreated surfaces offers yet another notational juxtaposition.

Jason McLean’s artwork courtesy of Michael Gibson Gallery, London, ON

Also on view at Gallery Stratford
Nathan Eugene Carson: No Human in Sight

And outdoors as part of our Art in the Trees Series
Talia Shipman: The Turquoise Period

Gallery Stratford
54 Romeo Street S.
Stratford, ON N5A 4S9

Gallery Hours: noon to 6 PM Daily

Admission is Free
Partially accessible

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Facebook: @GalleryStratford | @Ross.Bell.7921 | @Jason.McLean.543
Instagram: @gallerystratford | @ross6078 | @jasonmcleanstudio
Twitter: @gallerystrat
Web: Gallery Stratford | Ross Bell | Jason McLean | Michael Gibson Gallery
Bandcamp: Coughpark

Exhibition Info:

Information and Media Inquiries:
Angela Brayham
519-271-5271 x 222

Gallery Stratford gratefully acknowledges the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the City of Stratford. Our Free Admission program is supported in part by Orr Insurance & Investment