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Stephen McClelland - Recent Work

The Laura Russo Gallery, Portland
Nov 30 - Dec 23

Composition #2 With Teacup (2000),
oil on canvas

Seattle painter Stephen McClelland's abstract art is sometimes referred to as "Miro-like." This may be all right with McClelland as long as it's understood that such a comparison needs to be taken with the tiniest grain of salt. True, he shares with Miro a notion of the inexhaustibleness of playful line, shape and colour when suspended in an indeterminate space. But from there on, McClelland's work is as distinctive as his fingerprints. Miro was a purist of sorts, rendering his paisley/organic/ectoplasmic shapes and architectonic lines with Old-World academic precision and finish. Along with other Surrealists, he made the case for a nonobjective universe that suggested all the solidity and verism of a Dutch genre painting. Several generations down the line, Stephen McClelland, working with most of the same principles, demonstrates what various North American filters (such as Abstract Expressionism and the playful absurdity of Funk and Comic Art) have done to the slick seriousness of early European Modern. McClelland works on canvas support with a candy-bar-shaped "oil bar" (a patented Windsor-Newton product). This hefty instrument allows him to "draw" and "paint" at the same time, a capacity that permits a far more relaxed (or informal) notion of making abstraction, in a series of not-necessarily-related stylistic contexts. Viewing one of McClelland's compositions automatically brings to mind such code words as "flat" (here) and "painterly" (there) and "automatist line" (sewing it all in a piece.) Joyful colour comes out of McClelland's oil bars in the purest form, never grayed down by mixing, as with liquid paint. This, combined with his desultory line - which one gathers would automatically stop if he sensed something figurative emerging - and his earnest effort to pull a composition together with no prior design, make for quite an extensive (and never exactly repeatable) trip around the canvas.

© Ted Lindberg