Jason McLean

sculptor, Tomales CA // September 2011
These roots are over 1000 years old and take my breath away. They are twisted solid tornadoes the color of bricks. Their potential sculptural forms are still suggesting themselves to me.

Jason lives and works on 20 acres of ranchland in Marin County, out near Tomales. Driving along the dirt road that leads to his house, I gazed across the sweep of pastureland— the grasses a summer gold, growing high against the rickety fences, glinting in the sun underneath a plain blue sky— and thought about what gorgeous country we were in. Right before Jason’s home, torch lilies grow in clumps along the road; their spikes of red-orange flowers shoot out from the grass, boldly flashing their bright colors. In the yard there was a big dog tied under a tree, wagging his tail, bouncing up and down in excitement. Jason came out of the house to greet us, his young daughter trailing after him, and began showing us around. There is so much to see on Jason’s property— huge converted chicken barns, a portable greenhouse and a small portable cottage, sculptural work everywhere, a chicken coop, heavy-duty machinery, piles of tree trunks, Burning Man art vehicles he made from old wheelchairs, shipping containers full of welding materials— the list goes on and on…there really is just an endless array of things to check out. Jason isn’t particularly picky about what kinds of things he salvages; he works with whatever he comes across, allowing inspiration to arise from the materials, without planning too much beforehand. He had recently come into possession of a large stock of lighting fixtures, so much of his current work has been re-inventing/re-constructing lamps and chandeliers. We walked around his property for a quite a while, trying to take in all the unexpected treasures and all the details and stories behind each one of his creations. It was a great time; it almost felt like we’d stumbled into an old amusement park that had been shut down for years, but still so thoroughly steeped in wonder and surprise. Jason was gracious enough to guide us through all the bits and scraps of his beautiful rubble and the often whimsical and always eye-catching work he creates from it.

When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer?
I have been sculpting in metal and wood for more than 20 years, in West Marin and West County. While training as a young mechanic I began to experiment with tools on found and salvaged materials, pushing the capabilities of both toward new and unusual results.

Do you have a day job?
As a necessary component to my own sculptural works, I seek out and mill up salvage timber— Monterey Cypress, Black Acacia, Redwood. I supply other local cabinet and furniture makers with large slabs of these fine old trees.

What mediums do you work with?
Repurposed steel and salvage timber. I create both ornamental and functional pieces that emphasize the original qualities of the material.

What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them?
Space, time, materials. I actively seek out that which others consider junk, bring it to my shop and make it into art.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
Given the large size of most of my sculptures a roomy workspace is indispensable. Making the space work is a constant challenge as projects tend to overwhelm my space, one after the other. Ideas for new projects come to me in rapid succession, so it takes some maturity and discipline to finish each one!

Has there been a shift or change in your life or work that has led to what you are making now?
I have been in my new shop for only one year. This blank slate has energized me to create different sets of artworks, both functional and ornamental. I have frankensteined up a set of wall sconces and chandeliers whose parts were salvaged. They have been converted from electric to candlelight and represent deco, art nouveaux, nautical, and industrial styles. In addition, each new fallen tree that I come upon reveals its inner sculpture, sometimes right away, sometimes after I’ve stared at the piece for years.

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I am procuring a cache of redwood root burls from Mendocino county. These roots are over1000 years old and take my breath away. They are twisted solid tornadoes the color of bricks. Their potential sculptural forms are still suggesting themselves to me.

To see more of Jason’s work: