John McLean’s paintings have been described as Pseudo-Surrealist, drawing on a rich visual vocabulary that is inspired by his early foray into landscape painting and the north Taranaki countryside.
Fascinated by Jungian notions, McLean explores the individual and collective unconscious and the age-old archetypes of humanity that are found in folklore, myth and traditional tales, to illuminate personality and narrative.
Telling Tales is a collection of three narrative painting series within McLean’s body of work. The series are comprised of: The Springheel Jack, The Whaler & The Adoration and The Envy Of the Fisherman series. The Springheel Jack series is based on an eccentric, ascetic figure from McLean’s Tauranga boyhood, real name Michael Hodgkins (nephew of Frances Hodgkins.) Renowned as a naturalist, he was a distinctive character with long grey hair – in an era of short back and sides – invariably shirtless in an old pinstripe suit, with horny toenails protruding from his sand shoes. He shared his knowledge with interested children and dispensed nature specimens from a sack.
In keeping with McLean’s propensity for using characters in a metaphoric manner, he used Springheel Jack in the nature of a latter day saint, St Francis of Assisi; a figure who stands for linkage and harmony with our natural world. Springheel Jack’s fanciful portrayal lifts him from literal interpretation into symbolic reference.
Where Springheel Jack is presented with the Hunter and Fishers it is seen that they all occupy a harmonious relationship with nature in one sense – though in alternative positions as custodian and predator.
The Whaler works are from a series that recognises Pakeha cultural origins within the early bi-cultural engagement between whalers and traders with Maori, during the pre-settlement of New Zealand. The chief protagonist through this series is The Whaler’s Son, who represents the first bi-cultural child who is destined to carry the allegorical sequence forward.
The Adoration and The Envy of the Fisherman is one of a series of the same title that has a playful look at the universal theme of inter-gender favour and jealousy.
The exhibition, Telling Tales, at ARTIS Gallery will feature key representative works from all three series.