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Niall McClelland, Painter

Niall McClelland is a Toronto-based artist. His work includes painting, drawing and sculpture inspired by a DIY-aesthetic and background in graphic design. His work has been published in Adbusters, Arkitip, Color, Design Anarchy, Hunter and Cook, I-Live-Here, Lowdown, Made, and The Walrus among others. He’s represented by Clint Roenisch Gallery and he’s exhibited in Toronto, Vancouver, New York, San Francisco, Paris and London, among other locations.


I like the idea of misusing technology and tools. I like the simple way of making things, and then playing with that to get a fucked up version of it. A long time ago, I tried to make slick art but it just wasn’t in my DNA, so I rolled with the other side of it. I’m not precious with it. I’m interested in the restraint of not trying to perfect everything.

Jeremy Jansen and I recently moved to this studio. We had to tear it down and build it out. I stashed panels that came with the place and when we finished painting the studio, I took the panels out and primed them. I realized that they were going to buckle without any weight on them, so I put buckets down.

When I took them off, they ripped off a pattern. You could see the mark of the bucket and I thought, ‘That’s a cool way of painting.’ So, I sanded it off, painted over it and dipped the bucket in paint then stamped it on the surface. I don’t care if they’re considered ‘paintings’ but it’s mark-making. ‘Mark-making’ is a broader term to capture what I’m trying to do.

The more opportunities you have to show, the more opportunities you have to establish elements as part of your work. A lot of the time, you think you know what an artist is doing but you don’t at all. You’re not seeing what’s happening between infrequent gallery shows.

For Hot Sauce (2015), we edited work away to fit the space. I had enough work to fit another room. It wasn’t a rush to find work for the show. It was an editing process of which one piece out of ten is stronger, and then I’ll add it. It has to fit the space. I like a nice hang. I like a minimal, elegant formal hang even with informal elements.





When Rich Homie Quan came by for Noisey’s Forced Exposure, I didn’t totally know who he was. I had heard the single, but I didn’t realize it was that guy. He was in a good mood. He was easy to talk to. We talked a lot about basketball, aliens and ghosts but it didn’t all make the cut. It was easier to talk about the artwork when we established that we had those things in common. We could talk about art in terms of basketball.

When I’m accumulating images to use, they’re things in my environment and I see them so often that they become a symbol. I would see basketballs at the end of the street with weird and pretty frozen things in them. That’s where “Never had the Height” (2015) came from. People in the neighbourhood used basketballs as bird feeders and planters.

The misuse caught my eye. I’m into folksy things. Lately it’s been lawn ornaments. I collected a few from a store in the Bruce Peninsula. Some are religious, others are pop culture and there’s weird racist shit. It’s all folksy stuff. You go to your grandmother’s house in a small town, what does she decorate her house with? Wicker? What’s with wicker? I fucking hate wicker. Seashells in the bathroom are ok.

I do a lot of monotonous work where I don’t have to think. I zone out and watch Netflix or listen to podcasts. For example, I’ve been sewing patches on a blanket for the past five years. It’s something I do a couple days a week. I’ll go to a cottage and stitch things on it. It’s shitty and layered and sloppy. There are so many patches on it but it needs more. Eventually it will be an art, but not yet.


—Niall McClelland, as told to Studio Beat

Photos by Luis Mora


Visit Niall McClelland’s website here.

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