Jason McLean
A Canadian artist of diverse practices and mediums, Jason McLean is best known for his work in found objects and highly personal, complex and surreal drawings – a network of tangential messages and objects that function like a map of his life and society. He now lives and works in New York City. His current show “Soda Gardner” is at Wilding Cran in Los Angeles from January 19 – March 14.

Ryan Sluggett
Canadian painter and video artist represented by Richard Telles Fine Art in LA and TrépanierBaer in Calgary. Sluggett’s work has been included in the 2012 Hammer Biennial, “Made in LA” and permanent collections including The University of Chicago and the Hammer Museum. He held his second solo show, “Bubble Over Puddle” at the Richard Telles in 2014.

Automatic drawing
A form of drawing, developed by the Surrealists, which involves letting the subconscious take over by allowing the hand to move freely and randomly across the paper. The drawing lacks rationality and, in theory, reveals the inner workings of the psyche.

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Brooklyn-born artist (1960-1988) who was part of the NY street art movement in the 70s with the graffiti group SAMO. In the 80s, he produced abstract paintings whose marriage of text and image was overtly political, criticizing power structures, racism and colonialism.

Marcel Duchamp
A French artist (1887-1968) associated with Dadaism and conceptual art, Duchamp is known for his ready-mades (commonly known as found art), most famously “Fountain,” (1917) a urinal signed R. Mutt. He wanted to put art back in the realm of the mind over the eye.

The experience of Jason McLean’s work is like following a train of thought back to its root. Where did it start? Where did it branch off along the way? McLean’s drawings have this same meandering, web-like quality. You can follow the tangents of his thoughts and daily routines across his canvas (which is often not a canvas at all, but a found object such as a door, a backpack or a baseball glove). Fragments of text interact with his drawings – overheard conversations, pop culture, art history and street names – all merging into a bright and surrealistic map of his life. It’s no surprise he draws from influences including the automatic drawings of the Surrealists, the text-image paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp.

Fellow Canadian artist Ryan Sluggett talks to McLean about finding scraps, keeping humor as part of art, and using his Mom’s letters as material. His current show, “Soda Gardner,” is up at LA’s Wilding Cran Gallery from January 19 – March 14.

Ryan Sluggett: We share an interest in the work of rather obscure Canadian artists, and you have quite an impressive collection of works on paper. Do any of these works serve as a kind of talisman for you?

Jason McLean: One of the first pieces of Canadian art I acquired was a signed print of Harold Town’s “The Great Divide.” I received it in exchange for helping a neighbor move. The piece was from her ex-husband, and she wanted to completely forget about him so she gave me the work, I think without knowing about Harold Town.

Harold Town
A Canadian abstract painter and illustrator (1924-1990), Harold Town was part of Painters Eleven, a Toronto-based group of abstract artists active from 1954-1960.

Raymond Pettibon
Born Raymond Ginn, Pettibon created iconic posters and album art for Black Flag and others in the southern California punk rock scene. Pettibon rose to international prominence as an artist in the 80s, known best for his comic-like drawings and ironic or ambiguous text.

Shayne Ehman and his Mom, Gloria Taylor, made a psychedelic textile piece that my wife and I bought. The power of the patterns and the colours are very overwhelming at times. We have almost had to take it down because it is so powerful. Shayne would often say that we should just use it as a blanket, and sometimes I feel like I am too precious with it or something.

Definitely, the Pettibon pieces I have act as a sort of inspiration, not Canadian but important to my collection. We had traded the work in the early 2000s when I showed with him in Vancouver.

RS: Most of the text in this show is pointed outwards, almost away from the artwork. Quite a few references to Los Angeles. Is this outwardness simply a way of giving a drawing a subject, or is the outwardness meant to disorient and mislead the viewer from an orthodox and more internalized way of looking at art?

JM: It is so intertwined to me that I do not even think about internal or external narratives. I work automatic in some ways, more stream of consciousness, with triggered memories where one thing triggers the next. My work is a personal view, and not in references but in my memories of my own experiences, much like how a family tree would be structured. They are not meant to disorient the viewer, quite the opposite, much of my work is an invitation to immerse themselves and explore my work like a treasure hunt. Think of the overview maps, or city directories. I’m really into secrets of the city, or roadside Americana with its obscured landmarks and pop culture oddities.

RS: Yes I see the work grow and spread like a web chart. I wonder, does this complexity automatically make a work more open-ended and harder to pin down?

“I do try to stay up
and positive about working as an artist,
at times I’m questioning just how important
it is to take oneself so seriously.”
— Jason McLean

JM: Yes, I do like open-ended things. It is the whole thing about being understood or misunderstood. Some people work so hard to have a message come across, and someone will read into that piece something completely different than what the artist intended because we all have different perceptions and life experiences.

RS: Your work is self-deprecating, which is something I see less and less in art, at least in a genuine way. Do you find much art amusing? Is your art intended to balance a deficiency?

JM: I do find a lot of the time I consider myself a lazy art viewer. This answer could get rather bleak, is that what you are reaching for??

RS: I just don’t see self-deprecating humour as a common criteria amongst artists, but I find it very healthy.

Ray Johnson
Collagist and correspondence artist (1927-1995) whose work figured in the Neo-Dada and early Pop art movements. Johnson was the founder of the New York Correspondence School, a far-ranging mail art network still active today.

JM: I do try to stay up and positive about working as an artist, at times I’m questioning just how important it is to take oneself so seriously. Usually people are very misunderstood or misread in a lot of ways. Maybe that is reason for my reluctance of having one or two generalized meanings about my work. In some ways, but to address this is weird, someone like an artist, say for example, Ray Johnson, would not have a direct answer behind a piece – it is almost like a dream, but to address that is weird because it is like a magician giving away his trick.

RS: The humor also seems to rely on indirectness. I can either accept a joke or wordplay, becoming complicit in the intimacy bond, or I reject or pass over them. Is the telling of a joke an analogy to art viewing in general?

Andy Kaufman
An eccentric American performance artist and actor (1949-1984) whose preferred title was “song and dance man.” His work was highly popular, and maintains a cult following.

JM: No, Yes, No….

Take for example, Andy Kaufman. At times it was hard to know the direction of the smile… I like the awkwardness of not being sure whether to laugh or not, or to know if something is good or bad. And it is almost like a line-up at a food court when everyone lines up in the longest line, because they figure that is the best food. Is that a weird comparison?