Due South: Artist Jason McLean Interview
By MATTHEW RYAN SMITH, OCT. 2014
Last year I visited Jason McLean and his family in their London, Ontario home to talk about the Canadian Pez Museum, a joint-project between Jason and his sons Felix and Henry. It was a cold afternoon so Jason made hot coffee. We shared some laughs. Much has changed since then—I’ve moved back to London and Jason and his family have moved to New York City. We just can’t seem to be in the same city for very long. I wanted to catch up with Jason to see how New York has changed his style, and whether or not the “big city” was a distraction or a revelation. In Canada, Jason is widely known for his eclectic use of media, from magic markers and napkins to army helmets and geographical maps. It is there that he maneuvers between profoundly intimate autobiographical reflection and rich cultural history—local, regional, or otherwise. At present, his illustrations are included in the exhibition Contemporary Drawings from the National Gallery of Canada, currently at the Mendel Gallery in Saskatoon, while south of the border he’s making a place for himself.
Matthew Ryan Smith: Let’s start with your move from London, Ontario to New York City. Why New York now, and what does New York offer you?
Jason McLean: I’ve wanted to live in New York for twenty years, maybe longer. Health issues set me back sometimes, and it just seemed like “now or never.” I’m 43 years old now, and if I waited any longer, I mean, if I moved to New York after I was 50, it would seem like I was trying to hold onto my youth.
MRS: So the timing felt right?
JM: Yeah, my kids were still young enough that it was somewhat easy to transfer them around. I was also trying to rebuild. I went to Los Angeles for three and a half months, managed to get into a gallery there, and it seemed like things had dipped a little bit in my career. I was doing very well in Canada, but I wanted to keep that international market going, I don’t know if that’s the right word for it…
MRS: To be more visible in the US?
JM: Yeah, things slid out, and I didn’t have representation in Los Angeles for a while, but now I’m with Wilding Cran Gallery there, and I developed friendships with a community of people in Los Angeles. In New York, I had the relationship with my gallery fizzle out, so I’m trying to find a new gallery here in New York to show with. I have a group show with curated by Beth DeWoody at Franklin Parrasch Gallery that opens on the 23rd of October, and hopefully that’ll lead to something good. The transition has been really great in many ways, mainly because I know many people here.
MRS: You had already lived in New York, no?
JM: Last year I came to New York six times. We moved from Vancouver to Toronto, to London, ON to Los Angeles for three months, then we moved to New York. In between Los Angeles and New York we were in Vancouver and Victoria [BC] for a bit. We were homeschooling the kids along the way, and it was pretty wild. A mini-tour or something.