Interior Places

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The New Mysticism
interior, mysticism, black/white, wood, enamel, coloured pencil, furniture, domestic setting, commonplace, satire, political commentary, society,symbol, technology, institutional, classroom, loss of identity,blackboard, line, illusion of 3-dimensional, latitude and longitude, planets, orbits, alienation, sterile environment

McLellan often uses furniture – particularly chairs – to create commonplace,  domesticRemaining much at home; devoted to home duties or pleasures; as, a domestic man or woman.  Living in or near human habitations; domesticated; tame as distinguished from wild; as, domestic animals.  Made in one's own house, nation, or country; as, domestic manufactures, wines, etc.  One who lives in the family of an other, as hired household assistant; a house servant. Articles of home manufacture, especially cotton goods.  (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  settings that serve as his  satiricalThe use of humour as a way to ridicule the ignorance or vice of another person or group.  or political commentaries about issues that concern him. The pieces of furniture in his works, which are man-made creations, become symbols associated with our reliance on technology. These concerns were evident in McLellan’s Cover Up, presented in the Craft Redefined theme on the ARTSask website, and are explored again from a different  perspectiveA method used to create the illusion of space on a two-dimensional surface. It can be created by overlapping, placement, detail, colour, converging lines and size. See ( and for some examples.  in The New Mysticism, from the MacKenzie Art Gallery.

With The New Mysticism McLellan continues to explore the idea of dehumanization and loss of identity in our society. Instead of the living room scene presented in Cover Up, McLellan depicts a blackboard showing the interior of a classroom, framed inside a wooden frame. In the  backgroundPart of the picture plane that seems to be farthest from the viewer.  is another blackboard filled with mathematical symbols, swooping lines suggesting the orbits of planets or other celestial bodies, and a globe demarked with lines of latitude and longitude.
The  foregroundIn a painting or drawing, the foreground is usually composed of images at the bottom of the frame. They give the appearance of being closest to the viewer.  of the classroom is taken up with squares outlined in white, a cube and three chairs, against the black background. Apart from the marks on the blackboard there are no signs of human life in the classroom. Two empty chairs face each other, ready for conversation or debate, but there are no signs of activity. A third chair sits off by itself in another row, isolated. The symbols of science and technology are displayed on the blackboard, but there is no one there to receive them.

McLellan further reinforces the sense of alienation in the scene by placing a wood  frameSomething made to enclose a picture or a mirror; or an enclosure composed of parts and joined together; or to make such things. (  around the blackboard upon which he has created his classroom. The New Mysticism, McLellan seems to be saying, is a sterile place, disconnected and cut off from the natural world that we know exists outside the wooden frame.

additional resources Things to Think About
  • Three chairs are visible in the classroom McLellan depicts in The New Mysticism. The remainder of the room is filled with the outlines of squares. What do you think McLellan was saying with this arrangement of chairs and squares?
  • Visualize what a world disconnected from nature would look like. How would your visualized world look different from McLellan’s? How might it look the same?
  • Mclellan’s classroom apparently has no window, although as viewers of his work we may be seeing into the classroom through a window. From your experience of being in classrooms do you think it is important to have a window to the outside? Why?
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Design activity

Imagine that Ron McLellan’s painting, The New Mysticism, is in an exhibition in or near your community. As a local artist, you have been asked to  designA plan, or to plan. The organization or composition of a work; the skilled arrangement of its parts. An effective design is one in which the elements of art and principles of design have been combined to achieve an overall sense of unity. Also [applied design], the production of attractive and well crafted functional objects. Subcategories of the design arts include: architecture, bonsai, fashion design, furniture design, graphic design, ikebana, industrial design, interior design, landscape architecture, stagecraft, textile design, and Web page design. (  an item for the gallery shop, using The New Mysticism as inspiration.

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Design a tile online

Interior designers borrow from many sources.

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chalkboardMclellan’s artwork The New Mysticism might remind you of part of an interior  spaceSpace can be the area around, within or between images or elements. Space can be created on a two-dimensional surface by using such techniques as overlapping, object size, placement, colour intensity and value, detail and diagonal lines.  that is very familiar. In school, you probably looked at an object similar to this every day for several hours! The blackboard-like appearance, presenting a black  backgroundPart of the picture plane that seems to be farthest from the viewer.  and white  lineA mark with length and direction(-s). An element of art which refers to the continuous mark made on some surface by a moving point. Types of line include: vertical, horizontal, diagonal, straight or ruled, curved, bent, angular, thin, thick or wide, interrupted (dotted, dashed, broken, etc.), blurred or fuzzy, controlled, freehand, parallel, hatching, meandering, and spiraling. Often it defines a space, and may create an outline or contour, define a silhouette; create patterns, or movement, and the illusion of mass or volume. It may be two-dimensional (as with pencil on paper) three-dimensional (as with wire) or implied (the edge of a shape or form). (  drawings is even framed in the  styleA way of doing something. Use of materials, methods of working, design qualities and choice of subject matter reflect the style of the individual, culture, movement, or time period.  of an old fashioned blackboard.

Look carefully at the image using the zoom tool and decide what interpretation you would give to this piece. Here are some ideas to start your thinking:


  • Is Ron McLellan making a comment about classrooms in a playful way and comparing a classroom to a church, temple or place of mystical experience?
  • Are the “chair” shapes  all the same shape, suggesting that there is a lack of individuality? What might he be referring to?
  • Is the “blackboard within the picture covered with meaningless and complex symbols?  Could this be The New Mysticism? In saying something is “new”, what do you think Ron McLellan is comparing that is not new?

Create an updated version of this piece

Does The New Mysticism now have a humerous side to it, considering that many schools now have ”white boards”? Create a response to this question as a commentary or visual note, using photoshop or a similar computer program.


Arnold, Grant.  Ron McLellan: Recent Work.  Exhibition catalogue.  Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1987.

Heisler, Franklyn.  Tables Turned: Aspects of Furniture as Visual Art.  Exhibition catalogue.  Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Banff, Alberta, 1987.

Heisler, Franklyn.  ‘Links to Reality.’  Muttart Art Gallery newsletter, September/October 1989.

Lampard, Eilleen.  Cut It Out.  Exhibition catalogue.  Neutral Ground Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan, 1989.

Richmond, Cindy.  Outside Arcady: Four Regina Artists.  Exhibition catalogue.  Swift Current National Exhibition Centre, Swift Current, Saskatchewan, 1989.

White, Peter, Helen Marzolf and Suzanne Probe.  Case Installation Series.  Exhibition catalogue.  Dunlop Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan, 1988.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning