Niall McClelland

Our interview with the Toronto-based artist on the process and progress of his photocopy tapestries


Niall McClelland‘s art may be rooted in the subcultures of graffiti and punk rock, but its roughness has been refined through a well executed artistic process. His highly sought after “Tapestry” series includes large-scale works which are made by folding and wearing down large sheets of paper covered in photocopy toner. Toying with balance between control and chance, McClelland also makes vivid prints by allowing inkjet cartridges to seep into the corners of rugged Japanese papers that have been folded and bound, leaving striking psychedelic stains.

We recently caught up with the Toronto-based artist to ask about his process and his upcoming projects.

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You have an obvious affection for cast off common objects—ink cartridges, light bulbs, bed sheets, photocopies, etc. How did this develop? What’s the appeal of these things?

It developed as a practical way of making work. I needed to use affordable material for budget reasons, but it’s also what I’ve been surrounded by forever—used clothes, used furniture, thrift shop or junk pile everything. It seems like a natural, honest starting point for me to make work. Developing an eye for the potential in trash or cheap familiar materials. Being resourceful I think is the appeal, there’s a pride that comes from that.

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How much of the process are you able to dictate, and when do you know to just let things happen?

I like the idea of working with material that has had a bit of life to it, something that has existed outside of a studio. I tend to set up scenarios for the work to be created within, so setting up parameters that I’ve pre-determined then letting the material do its own thing within them—anything from weathering canvases on my roof, to folding paper and walking with it in my pocket. As far as when to know when to let go, that’s just experience with the materials and learning restraint. Having an eye for what works and what is shit.

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Tell us about how the folded photocopies ended up as the fabric design for Jeremy Laing’s Spring 2012 collection.

Jeremy saw my show last spring at Clint Roenisch gallery and got in touch, but we have a lot of friends in common so it wasn’t a huge stretch. We started getting together to talk about his upcoming collection and compare notes, he’s a sharp guy and we see eye to eye on things, so we just narrowed it down to several directions and I created the work which ended up as his prints for the Spring/Summer 2012 collection. Super simple, we’re friends now. I also have a couple really rad silk scarves coming out with Cast of Vices in the fall. We scanned some of the folded photocopies on this insane NASA scanner, and had them printed on really great silk, pretty badass.

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What’s on the horizon?

As far as upcoming projects, I have a solo show opening at Eleanor Harwood Gallery in San Francisco opening 7 April. I’ll be showing with Clint Roenisch at the NADA fair in May (to coincide with the first Frieze Art Fair in New York) alongside buds and great artists Hugh Scott-Douglas and Alexander Hardashnakov, which should be rad. All three of us will also be included in the group exhibit this June “Trans/FORM” at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) in Toronto alongside five other artists. Can’t wait for that one too!

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Niall McClelland is represented by Clint Roenisch Gallery in Toronto, Envoy Enterprises in New York and Eleanor Harwood Gallery in San Francisco.