With a soldering iron, Mike McClung creates intricate burn outs out of vellum and cold-pressed paper and arranges the paper to create visual arrays. McClung's work will show in Connections, a new show starting Friday the 13th at Space Gallery. Aside from showing at Space, Art and Soul Gallery in Boulder, and various shows on the East and West coasts, McClung works passionately as an art consultant.
He took some time to talk to us about getting burned, the genre of his work and why he thinks he's not that great at painting.
When did you start to experiment with paper-burning?
I just launched right into it. Historically I always thought of myself as a painter, and I paint with primary and bright colors -- I'm from Florida and I started with that bright Caribbean palate. The reality is that I am just not that great of a painter. There are a lot of great and wonderful painters and I am just not one of them.
So, I woke up one day, ten years ago, when I had been working on a bright red painting, and I knew that I was going to do something different. I was going to use a soldering iron on vellum, over cold-pressed paper. I did about a dozen of them and thought, "Oh, okay. I explored that, so now I'm through." But obviously, I keep coming back to it.
Is there a name for what you do?
It's technically called pyrography, which is the art of burning, but usually when people are talking about pyrography, they're talking about using a wood burner on planks of wood in a log cabin up in the mountains with a coyote or something. And, it's thought of as very representational art and it usually has to do with the agrarian landscape. That's just not me.
I didn't do research on it until I had been doing this for about four or five years, so I just called them vellum or paper burn-outs. Also, as opposed to the representational artwork associated with pyrography, my work ends up getting abstracted, or decorative. It's more geometric or botanical.
What's your biggest challenge?
For me the big thing is that usually I end up burning through multiple layers of paper and then I float the layers on top of each other, so the challenge is envisioning what that float is going to look like. The frame pieces are about movement of the light, and so they are an exploration of light and shadow. These newer pieces are single-layer pieces that are torn apart and reassembled. For me, it is still exploring layers and interconnection, but it's putting those multiple layers on one surface.
Have you ever burned yourself?
You know, I've only burned myself one time, and only a small burn. I normally, 95 percent of the time, although it should be all the time, wear leather gloves and have a respirator on and often long sleeves -- because I'm working on paper I can't have oils from my skin sink into the paper -- so usually there's not much chance of burning myself. Every once in a while though, I do. And it's always one of those reactions where I saw and smelt and it before I actually felt it. Unfortunately it scarred, but not too much .
How long have you been working on these pieces?
Elements from this show date back to last summer. I have three directions in the show: the framed, quintessential burn-out vellum over cold-pressed paper, a series of derivative etchings, where I did the burn-out series and then made a series of etchings based on the burn I did, and then reassembled pieces.
What's your upcoming show going to be like?
The ideas for the show is about inter-connectivity, which is something I always support in my work. The show is called "Connections" and so each artist has recurring themes you find in either nature or interpersonal relationships, where things kind of repeat. Mark's work shows his fascination with sacred geometries, so anything that is kind of knots and sequences.
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What are you working on in the future?
I'm also an art consultant, and I focus on residential consulting -- art acquisition and art collector's boot camp. The business is sometimes a slow process, but I am coming along. I'm always ready for some more business. It's been hard to juggle really focusing on the production of this show, and another show I was doing this month in D.C., so after this show goes up on the wall, I am going to put making art on the back burner a little bit so can focus on other people's art.
For more information, visit McClung's web page.