John McLean exhibition

I went to see John McLean’s new show at Poussin Gallery Bermondsey with Steve Lewis the sculptor. The show had works from various times including a painted sculpture, a couple of small constructions in wood and card and several oval paintings - featuring a band of thickly brushed colour echoing the shape and enclosing pieces of collaged canvas in curved wedges radiating out in a calculatedly awkward way– the gaps between which helped animate and add linear elements. There were a number of larger paintings including several vertical ones all of which had shapes such as irregular circles, triangles working off brushstrokes in strips or zig-zag areas. There were no ‘signature’ style works which for my mind are when black is used as an anchor colour against which higher keyed colour reacts. The works here employed a wide palette of earths and gutty pastels to contrast and compliment the pitch of primaries.

I have always felt that the black in many of John’s works afforded a dynamic dark light drama where shapes (mainly triangles of late) cut up space – take away the black and the earth colours have to work harder - consequently there is more attention to surface especially surface that is kicked up, loaded with pumice and heavily reworked. Little shimmers of a pearlescent pigment lift slate greys and umbers. Thinking about the triangles I don’t think they have been made with the notion of a triangle in mind rather they are seen as shapes of angular dynamism, chopping and syncopating their way across the canvas. The use of collage is still formative in these works and they hint at possibilities to come – perhaps where the edges meet or don’t meet, playing an even more particular role – the best read as colour before material – the smaller ones risked a lot with the wider gaps between pieces and a toeing of one shape into the enclosing band of colour sometimes felt like normal service had been resumed.

A satisfying show with a slightly knock-about irreverent feel to the collection of works. Mclean continues to make dedicated higher level abstract art that is almost reassuringly out of fashion these days, though always pertinent to a concentrated informed audience - a show like this is always a pleasure to see.