In this latest exhibition, titled ‘Passing Through’, McLean envelops all of his works in a sense of mysticism and awe. Each work is unique in its own context. John McLean is best known for his pseudo-surrealist work, often drawing on a rich visual vocabulary that is inspired by his early foray into landscape painting and the north Taranaki countryside where he lives.
With all of his works, McLean starts each canvas with no set or preconceived idea. The works develop their own identity as he sketches and adds layers of colour. The compositions emerge out of their own accord and McLean often repaints works, to determine which figures emerge and what elements of the final painting remain.
In ‘Sharing the Pool’ McLean references legend of the Salmon of Knowledge, a creature from Irish mythology. ‘Passing Through’ – mythological figures look on as two travellers pass through the land hesitantly placing one foot in front of the other and carrying torches to guide them forward.
Encompassing an almost dreamlike quality in their respective compositions, are ‘The Reader’ & ‘The Bird Watcher Watcher’. The seated male figure in The Reader is depicted as completely engrossed in the book he is reading, unaware of the world around him. The imagined world of the novel is depicted on the right hand side of the composition, with the female protagonist of the book hovering over him and the distant figure of a galloping horse depicting the action of the text. In The Bird Watcher Watcher the angelic female figure is cast as the protector of the exotic bird species and the native forests.
The importance of our native fauna and flora is also evident in works such as ‘Entering the Promised Land’ and ‘Making Space in the Promised Land’ . Here we see European settlers making their mark, guided by a female Maori figure through a lush New Zealand landscape, with a Maori Pa featured in the background. The establishment of housing, the importation of foreign species arriving into our native land – with a reference to Noah’s Ark – and the exploitation of our native forests are evident in McLean’s dramatic compositions.
‘The Day the Music Died’ pays homage to French post-impressionist Henri Rousseau’s iconic work ‘The Sleeping Gypsy’ and to the lyrics of McLean’s namesake, Don MacLean, and his famous song American Pie.
McLean also pays reference to his iconic series, ‘The Farmer’s Wife and The Farmer‘, which is also the title of his forthcoming book due to be launched on 16th December this year. The work ‘Counting Eggs When the Children Leave Home’ and the small double portrait with the same title portray the narrative of the farmer and his wife. This theme has occupied McLean’s work for the past decade. Isolation, the sadness associated with children leaving home and the loss of fertility – and the relationship of the farmer with his wife are richly illustrated in these two works.