Setting controlled human structures against the forces of nature drives works by local artist Ian McLean. McLean, seen above, will be talking about his paintings with visitors to the the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery during First Friday. (NEIL BOWEN/Sarnia Observer)

Local artist Ian McLean will share his work and guide people through its creation during this coming First Friday when his paintings will be part of a new exhibit at the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery.

McLean’s paintings set the controlled architecture of suburbia against the uncontrolled forces of nature.

“It’s almost mythological, hallucinogenic. I like that tight rope walk,” said McLean during a Thursday preview of the exhibit, Elusive Utopia.

The straight line of homes McLean has painted share the canvas with the apparent encroachment of nature’s vibrant colors.

“We want to feel we have control,” McLean said.

Among the 20 paintings in the exhibit are ones titled Storm Over Lake Huron, Jacked Up, Disintegration and Flood.

The works – some of which are on loan to the gallery from private collections – have been created by McLean during the past four or five years.

McLean, who is also an art teacher at Northern Collegiate, is looking forward to the First Friday opening.

“There is going to be a lot of people,” he said.

First Friday – a monthly cultural walkabout in downtown Sarnia – has been a huge plus for the gallery as it brings people in that might not come by themselves but enjoy visiting with a group, said Lisa Daniels, curator of the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery

McLean has been discussing with gallery staff for some time his involvement with an exhibit like the one opening Friday.

“It’s great to see it finally up,” said McLean.

Daniels said support of local artists has always been a key part of the gallery’s mandate.

It is a real compliment to McLean’s works featuring stunning vibrancy, said Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley during the preview.

“He certainly holds his own (with artists of national and international renown),” Daniels added.

Elusive Utopia also features the work of Mathew Carver, Renee Van Halm and Kevin Yates, artists who have exhibited internationally.

On Thursday, Lambton Warden Bill Weber said all county residents should visit the exhibit as the county is very fortunate to have the gallery and talented local artists.

The exhibit also features still-live videos by local artist Jane Austin. The videos explore the play of light and shadow on everyday objects along with the hypnotic sound of a clock, according to a gallery description of her work.

McLean enjoys the connection to Austin who taught him during her career as local art teacher.

“I am a county boy,” said McLean, a Bright’s Grove resident.

Elusive Utopia runs Feb. 3 to May 7 at the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery

McLean will make a gallery appearance Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. to discuss his work. On Feb. 25, he’ll make an appearance as part of an oil painting workshop from 10 am to 3 p.m. Cost is $75 to $90.

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