Asian Art News
By Lucy Birmingham
"Jack McLean at A.R.T. Gallery"
Jack McLean's 32 finely penned drawings titled "Kafka on the Shore…" at A.R.T. Gallery until December 31, reflect the artist's surreptitious hand. The originals, drawn on mini 7 x 11cm notebook paper, lure you in. They first appear like manga. But take a closer look and there's much more to discover. McLean states clearly, "My drawings are not simply cartoons." They are stories that unfold before you — sex, perversion, fear, horror — sliced with twisted humor.
McLean was inspired by Johnnie Walker, a famous fixture in Tokyo's art scene for over 20 years, and the Johnnie Walker character in Haruki Murakami's novel, "Kafka on the Shore." Walker has known Murakami for many years. The author admits the cat-killer character in the novel, named Johnnie Walker, was inspired by the real-life personality.
Walker is known as an influential networker, art patron and artists' inspiration. Through his A.R.T. Foundation and the A.R.T. Gallery in Tokyo, he has forged the career of numerous up and coming artists. It was Walker who discovered McLean's talent for drawing. Known originally as a performance artist, the Scottish provocateur, has been tantalizing audiences and teasing the authorities worldwide since the early 90's.
McLean was also inspired by Walker's connections with many famous artists. His drawing titled, "Johnnie is screaming with Tracey and a monkey" includes Tracey Emin in the center. Some of the drawing is based on her work — the unmade bed, the biological warfare suits, the tent with all the people she slept with, and her work from Edward Munch's "The Scream." The rest evolved from McLean's rich imagination.
"Johnnie eats cat gut sausages," was inspired by Murakami's "Kafka on the Shore," with Walker as the cat-killer character. At first glance, the drawing seems to be imitating the book's horrific scenes. But take a closer look and you can see the little price tags attached to the cats' bodies. They are actually toy cats stuffed with sausages. It's one of McLean's gotcha-to-look humorous twists on a potentially revolting image. In a merge with reality, the dogs owned by the real-life Johnnie Walker sit at his side. Always a conversation stopper, and Walker's alter-ego, they appear in many of McLean's drawings.
A man staring from the corner of the window partially hidden behind a cactus tree is one of McLean's favorite subjects — peeping toms. Often portrayed as McLean himself, the peeping tom is also representing us, the audience. As a performance artist the audience is always a crucial element. Here, the story unfolds like a "Where's Wally" maze that keeps you guessing and searching for the hidden answer to the plot. But McLean says the answer is in your head. The answer perhaps to "Kafka on the Shore."
Walker's infamous dirty jokes have also been excellent fodder for McLean's drawings. The work titled, "Johnnie holding a shotgun to a driver's head in one of his jokes" is imagined from McLean's very first encounter with Walker ten years ago. McLean recently heard Walker tell the joke again in the exact fashion that he had done at their first meeting. What struck him was not the boring repetition in style but the fact that there is continuity in the way Walker develops relationships with people.
The drawings as a group offer a wily satiric look at Murakami's book, the art world and the real-life Johnnie Walker. Among his exhibitions, this is probably the best so far, offering a consistent concept and the strongest impact. Influences from Japan's excruciatingly popular manga culture can be seen. And yet McLean's choice of one-page, story-like provocative themes drawn with superb skill, are a fresh and original approach. Followers of this up and coming, multi-talented artist will not be disappointed — a surprise always within reach.