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Myth, ritual and the personal: Mural specialist brings immersive exhibition to Ramp Gallery

Kirikiriroa artist Craig McClure has developed a new exhibition reflecting on his personal story through a method of relational curation with Wintec’s Dr Tamsin Green. Photo by Geoff Ridder.

Scottish born, Kirikiriroa Hamilton based, Craig McClure is many things: an artist, muralist, maker, businessman, father and husband.

His new exhibition Thought Crimes, which opens at Ramp Gallery on 2 May, examines his personal story and experiences growing up in a brethren church and later leaving his faith in his late twenties through sculpture and painting with a rich yet restrained palette.

Differing from his well-known mural work in city spaces that sport his signature ‘neon, poppy, comic book character style’, this exhibition brings new ideas to life through a variety of mediums in a thoughtful yet playful way. 

In Thought Crimes, McClure is presenting sculptural work alongside large-scale monochromatic paintings developed from drawings that use the motions of ink on paper. McClure likes to follow where the ink travels, ‘with its element of surprise,’ the ink is immediate and forces you to commit to the marks being made and enjoys how this dictates the form and shape of the drawings.

Since graduating from Wintec School of Media Arts (2012), McClure has steadily moved into the realm of mural-making as both an artist and project manager, through his business Lighthouse, brightening up the urban streetscape. McClure has painted many murals over the years and was an artist for the inaugural Boon Arts Festival in 2015, after which he quickly secured an operational role for the festival. 

“That's when it became more of a business thing for me,” says McClure, “I left my day job.” 

At Lighthouse relationships are at the core of what he does, connecting clients to artists and ensuring that this process goes smoothly. McClure sees himself as a curator, so he sets aside his personal aesthetic preferences to make sure the right job is booked for the right space. There are many considerations: layers of histories to the sites identifying who uses the spaces, who will connect with it and longevity. McClure collates this research framework for the artist to dive into. 

“Checking your own bias at the door is a big part,” says McClure, “When you feel like you're in a position of privilege and making decisions for public art there’s a responsibility to make sure that there's a diversity of artists, style and content.”

McClure's murals within the streetscape are large in scale and extremely colourful. Because they are outside and part of the elements, viewers hear and feel the city as a component of the work, they’re experiential and all-encompassing. Moving indoors to a gallery space, the multi-layered experience of viewing can be explored in a controlled environment.

“This is my fourth immersive installation,” says McClure. “In the gallery, there is the opportunity to introduce sound and an atmosphere, outside, that's much, much harder to control.” 

Curator Tamsin Green supported the exhibition and through multiple studio visits and discussions worked with McClure to negotiate how a new show might manifest. A relational approach to curation gave McClure the opportunity to refine ideas in conversation with the curator and explore themes with no premeditation of what the final show would look like. 

McClure says he has been ‘jumping between the two pools’ of public art and art made for gallery spaces and this exhibition has been his biggest shift yet. 

“It's by far the most vulnerable, honest, exhibition that I've ever done,” says McClure. “In the past, I’ve been using science fiction, characters, and illustration in my work, to kind of obscure the underlying messages because it feels raw, and very, very personal, and quite intense. So, with this work at Ramp Gallery, I've tried to not do that and just actually have the message on the face of it.” 

The term ‘Thoughtcrimes’ that the exhibition takes its title from, comes from George Orwell's seminal book 1984 and alludes to the policing of people’s thoughts. McClure used this term to point to his own experience with organised religion. As a child he was taught to believe he was under constant observation and could be punished for his thoughts, that people are born sick and were commanded to be well. 

“I adopted a dogmatic and ignorant view of other cultures and communities,” he says. “It’s a fearful and shameful experience living with the idea of constant judgment.” 

This exhibition is fundamentally about McClure’s journey to leave that world behind while reconciling the remnants of shame, guilt, and uneasy feelings, ruminated over during childhood.

McClure acknowledges the challenges of making work deeply rooted in his personal story but speaks to the catharsis of the process. 

“It’s taken a certain amount of honesty and vulnerability to shift from the conceptual creating and making as a contemporary artist to creating work in response to my story,” says McClure. 

“[For mural art] there’s a client, there's a brief, there's a discussion, and then there's all these, you know, stepping stones to an outcome. Nobody has to be vulnerable there, that's the difference.” 

McClure sees the gallery exhibition as a space to explore important ideas and take risks. 

Although Thought Crimes is a solo presentation of new works, McClure is quick to acknowledge the contributions of others to bring the exhibition to life: his wife Rachel Kiddie-McClure, who has developed a textile piece of blue velvet and gold to support the concepts in the show;  Ramp Gallery curator Tamsin Green, who was integral to the development of this exhibition; and poet Stephanie Christie who contributed with a piece of creative writing, featured in the catalogue in response to years of conversations with Craig and his personal journey and experiencing the works and finally Dr Jeremy Mayall who has composed a sounds scape for the exhibition. 

“I’m usually someone who tries to do everything by myself, collaborating with other artists and asking for help has helped me grow as an artist.” 

Exhibition details: 

Thought Crimes  
Craig McClure  
2 May –25 May 
Opening Night: 4.30pm - 6.30pm, Thursday 2 May 
Ramp is a contemporary public art gallery, situated in the heart of Hamilton City at Wintec’s School of Media Arts.

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