A Perfect Time and Place
Ivan McLean grew up in the perfect time and perfect place: the California coastal area of Point Reyes in the 1970s. “Living there was perfect,” he said. “It was spectacularly nice. Things weren’t so crazy or as expensive as now.” If he went to the beach and three people were there, he thought it was crowded.
Ivan’s father, who was from Denmark, was a contractor. Ivan and his sister often went along on jobs to carry plywood and nail floors down. Their dad built Carmelite nunneries in San Rafael with onion domes that required tens of thousands of shingles. Ivan also loved to care for the family’s chickens and pigs. He began working on area cattle ranches when he was only twelve.
Despite his love of making things, Ivan didn’t consider himself an artist. He thought of drawing ability as the dividing line between artists and non-artists. “I still cannot draw worth anything,” he said. He expected to grow up to work in agriculture, not sculpture.
Ever since Ivan was a kid, he planned to join the Peace Corps. After graduating from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo with a B.S. in farm management, he set off for Mindanao in the Philippines. There he served as an agricultural extension agent. “It was the stereotypical Peace Corps experience,” he said. “You had to hike in. I lived in a tiny village.”
Ivan met his wife Michelle while in the Peace Corps, when someone asked him to build some furniture for her. “The Peace Corps is like the perfect dating agency,” he said, “because you meet people who are very much alike in a lot of good ways.”
After they finished their Peace Corps stints, they traveled separately, Michelle to Tibet and China, Ivan to Australia. Eventually Ivan convinced Michelle to join him in Point Reyes. They’ve been together ever since, raising three daughters.
Ivan wasn’t sure what to do for a living when he first returned from the Peace Corps. His brother inspired him to start building gates, fences and furniture to sell at Bay Area flea markets. “If you’re from Scandinavia, you’re going to end up making furniture no matter what,” he joked about being the child of a Danish father and Swedish mother. The first sculpture Ivan sold was a little wooden tower. He made it on a weekday and sold it at the flea market that weekend.
In 1989, Ivan and Michelle moved to North Carolina so she could get her master’s in public health. Ivan and his brother began selling furniture to a gallery called Ceddana, which eventually turned into Delia, an international wholesale furniture manufacturer. Ivan also discovered North Carolina’s marble, which he began carving.
After a stint in Mississippi, the family moved to Michelle’s hometown of Portland in 1996. The furniture business was good, but Ivan was more and more drawn to sculpture. Over the years, he phased out furniture. Now he works with metal, glass and stone in his shop on North Albina, then comes home to his woodworking studio. His sculptures range from metal spheres weighing 450 pounds to large wooden torsos.
Ivan installs most of his sculptures himself, delivering them to places around the country. He enjoys the challenge of getting the heavy sculptures into place. For a recent installation in the Columbia River Gorge he had to devise a contraption to install a 450-pound bronze ball to look as though it was floating on a pond.
One of Ivan’s current projects is making a 10-foot diameter disco ball/ DJ booth covered with two-way mirrors. The DJ inside will be suspended 15 feet in the air. The ball is scheduled to debut at the What The Festival in the Gorge this summer. It may also make it to Burning Man.
While occasionally his work finds a home indoors, Ivan prefers outdoor sculptures. “You can have a really spectacular environment, whether it’s how it’s planted or the view behind.”
Portlanders can see Ivan’s work at Springbox Gallery on NW 24th and York. He also shows sculptures at Sculpturesite in Sonoma, California.
When Ivan’s in town on First Thursday, he enjoys the Urban Art Network’s First Thursday Street Gallery. “It’s a great place to go down, bring a couple of big fun pieces so people can interact with them,” he said. People of all ages get excited about his eight-foot balls. “All of the drunk people get into the spheres. Women with little miniskirts and high heels, and drunk guys trying to make it move around.” He enjoys the Street Gallery’s free and welcoming atmosphere, and “getting out of the gallery snobbery where things have to be this or that.” Ivan encourages newer artists to come down and sell their work at the street gallery.
As for the future, Ivan has big dreams. “I want to make bigger and bigger and bigger things,” he said. His biggest sculpture so far is a 50-foot long yellow piece on the pier in front of the Pacifica Condos. He welcomes commissions from people who aren’t afraid of size. “I can go as big as they can go,” he said. “It’s all about the scale of people next to things.”
Ivan’s website: http://ivanmclean.com/