George McLean: The Living Landscape
By Leanne Wright
Tom Thompson Art Gallery, Owen Sound
An excerpt from his new publication, George McLean: The Living Landscape best describes his deep love for wildlife and why he has studied and painted them for most of his life: “For as far back as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by animals, both large and small – wild ones in particular. A tiny red squirrel I find no less beautiful or interesting than the most impressive mountain lion.
“My pictures are carefully constructed, unsentimental statements that faithfully describe the beautiful, untamed creatures I know and love best. The body of work I’ve created over the past four decades is a reflection of the love and respect I feel for this (Grey) county and the animals that live here.”
He lives on a wild 101 acres sprawled over the rolling hills of Bognor, Ontario. He and his wife Helen have been there for over 40 years. They lovingly restored a stone farmhouse and are true caretakers of the surrounding land. They’ve planted over 100,000 trees and feel a great connection with the Grey County landscape.
George’s love for the country around his home was the impetus for challenging Bill Murdoch, then Reeve of Sydenham Township (and chair of the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority – a commenting agency for land use), over a section of hardwood bush that Murdoch had ear-marked for a development project. Sydenham Mills would have been a development of 30 houses along the Spey River which George fought tooth and nail and sunk over $50,000 of his own money to stop. And stop it he did. His actions halted further irresponsible development in the area and awarded him the W.W.H. Gunn Conservation Award which is given by the Federation of Ontario Naturalists to individuals who demonstrate outstanding personal service and a strong commitment to nature conservation over a number of years and with exceptional results.
George has been an active supporter of Ducks Unlimited Canada, and has donated paintings over the years in support of their conservation efforts. He’s also been a supporter of WWF Canada. Despite his long-standing support of conserving the landscape and the animals who inhabit it, he doesn’t consider himself an activist.
“My work is not about conservation; I’m an artist. But if it helps conserve habitat in any way, I’m all for that.”
The Tom Thomson Gallery in Owen Sound Ontario is currently showing a 40 year retrospective of McLean’s work. The exhibit runs until January 2011 and then the touring show heads to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Art Gallery of Sudbury, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery and then finishes up at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
A major book of his works is now available and can be purchased from the Tom Thomson Art Gallery. If you’re in the area, you can attend the launch at Ben McNally Books on Thursday November 4 from 6-8 p.m. or at The Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound on Sunday November 7 from 2 p.m.