Glass reviews the Scottish artist’s latest show in Tokyo – A history of human folly at the heart of Jack McLean’s art

Glass reviews the Scottish artist’s latest show in Tokyo – A history of human folly at the heart of Jack McLean’s art

Jack McLean’s painting, It’s a Long Story, in Full Colour, without a Happy Ending, on view at The Container gallery in Tokyo at the moment, brings to mind the illustrated handscrolls (emaki) of ancient Japan. Made popular in the 12th century, a typical emaki’s narrative progresses from right to left and uses a device called “iji dozu” to mean, literally, “different time, same illustration”, in which different events often take place in the same background.

A good example is the 14th-century handscroll, A Long Tale for an Autumn Night, an ill-fated love story of an older monk and a young novice, in which they are regularly shown in successive events within a segment of the scroll with a unified backdrop. In one scene, the artist (unidentified, ca. 1400) depicted the acolyte’s suicide, his cremation, and the old monk’s journey to redemption at the same lake in the same section, as if they were happening simultaneously.

Whether intentional or not, McLean appears to employ the same iji dozu method in It’s a Long Story. His alter-ego, a peripatetic sad clown dressed in a Union Jack suit – sometimes he looks more irritated than morose – emerges from the primordial soup and hurtles through the history of human folly within a unified landscape, as if time and space have been collapsed into a single plane.

Jack Mclean Art

In his travels, the sad clown experiences what McLean describes as “the futility of human endeavour” and “the absurdity of the human species” which include wars, dinosaurs feasting on a marching band, fat women and their bratty kids, obnoxious British tourists, Hitler, Klansmen, Jesus, and circus performers.

Like an emaki, McLean’s scroll-like painting starts from the right – from the left in the catalogue – expands into a large painting in the middle (not in the catalogue as it was only completed after the publication went to press), and narrows back into a horizontal canvas on the left.

McLean’s use of the iji dozu method might have come from his two decades or so of living in Tokyo. Born in Glasgow, he moved to Japan in the 1990s after graduating from the Glasgow School of Art with a Masters of Fine Art.

His primary practice is drawing with performance/interventions, video art, and sculpture as extensions of his work. For It’s a Long Story. he installed a papier-mâché airplane inside the gallery and dressed as the sad clown during the exhibition’s opening.

The Container, a gallery in the hip neighbourhood of Nakameguro, Tokyo, is curated by Israel-born Shai Ohayon, and the space is an actual container built inside the equally trendy Bross hair salon.

by Peter Yeoh

Photography by James Bingham

It’s a Long Story, in Full Colour, without a Happy Ending is on view at The Container in Tokyo until February 15, 2015. McLean’s exhibition is sponsored by Hendrick’s Gin.

The Container, 1-8-30 Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-0051

A bilingual catalogue is available here

Jack McLean at The Container:

Image 1

What should have been a normal idyllic morning picnic in a tranquil chocolate box landscape for the Yamato family was about to be interrupted by the arrival of a Flying Fortress (off canvas) bomb also but only noticed by the tied up baby Yamato the other being too preoccupied with his thoughts of future soccer stardom they were about to be over run and eaten by a large group of zombies who had originally been on their way to the office this was of no concern to the two angels of death (scientists) who were more perturbed by the fact that they couldn’t enjoy their 99s without first breaking the seal lifting their respirator masks and exposing themselves to the lethal doses of poisonous gas present in the atmosphere caused by the eruption of the central volcano or was it the drums of chemical waste floating down river behind them entering (by waterfall) all this mayhem and chaos and adding to it The Sad Clown drunk and incapable runs his stolen red sports car into a bridge only slightly stunned he crawls away determined to continue his journey through this pointless but nevertheless fascinating life meanwhile the bitten and putrefying limbs of the dead slowly begin to reanimate and the lonely little red tricycle sits in the middle of the yellow brick road its owner long gone and never to return taken away by the bad man. © Jack McLean, 2014
Oil-ink pen and watercolours on prepared canvas
133 x 178 cm
Courtesy of The Container, Tokyo

Image 2

(Detail) Out of the soup a nothing struggles onto dry land finding an attaché case full of toys for boys he thinks who would waste our precious resources to manufacture this rubbish never mind onwards into paradise he finds a three piece suit hanging from a tree no longer humiliated by his nakedness it is time for a nothing to become a something applying the camouflage paint creatively the nothing becomes The Sad Clown a sudden flash introduces him to human conflict keeping low he manages to avoid the horror of a patriotic bikini-wearing neck-less  female only to enter into the sluggish molasses of stalemate trench warfare  where he starts practicing a popular sentimental tune on his toy accordion to relieve the monotony he blows up a pink balloon while the organizers contemplate the ruse of the false surrender best not to go down that road just use mustard gas instead becoming bored The Sad Clown keeping low simply walks out of the conflict zone crossing the bridge to safety he dons a disguise like his front line brothers deserters are shot so it’s best not to be recognised the journey continues through the time of the dinosaurs past the  nuclear family the perv in the park and various other traps The Sad Clown reaches the liquid edge of the world and plunges in

© Jack McLean, 2014
Oil-ink pen and watercolours on prepared canvas
9 cm x 450 cm
Courtesy of The Container, Tokyo

About The Author

Glass Magazine New York and Tokyo editor

Related Posts