Street smarts

Niall McClelland marked by ambivalence

NIALL MCCLELLAND at Clint Roenisch (190 St. Helens), to February 28. 416-516-8593. Rating: NNNN

Hot Sauce, Niall McClelland’s show of painting, prints, video and sculpture, is hard to parse at first. Spanning a jumble of sensibilities, it doesn’t even come across as the work of one artist. Yet underneath it all, a few themes can be discerned.

For one, McClelland mines his ambivalence about his youth spent in mosh pits and skate parks, paying tribute to the scenes that gave birth to his artistic sensibility even as he distances himself from them.

Bad Teenage Poetry, for example, appears to be four formalist abstract shapes silkscreened across separate panels. But it’s also the gate-fold from a cassette by early favourite hardcore band Rancid, with the lyrics blotted out.

A series at the start of the show takes its images from old ads and cartoons. Representing everything from badly drawn sexual puns to Kurt Cobain’s suicide note and Peanuts’ philosophical Linus, their scratchy surfaces and black humour bring to mind scarred high school desks carved by bored skatepunks.

McClelland betrays his fascination with double meanings and misdirection in other ways. Five giant canvases in the back room may strike you as high-minded expressionism. Rolled over and splattered, they’re the result of casual layering applied on the studio floor. They’ve been worked on, obviously, but he’s not letting us know how much.

The show’s lone video sums it up. It’s the ghostly slowed-down image of an early street ball hero engaging in a style of aggressive and humorous play no longer allowed in the NBA. It’s a style McClelland hopes to evoke.

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