Sculptor Ivan McLean never thought he would become an accomplished artist. Surprising for a kid with a Swedish photographer mother and a Danish adventurer/contractor dad, but as a child, he did not think he had the skill. “I was so intimidated,” he shared, “And I couldn’t draw, so I just stayed away.”
His father filled his free time building “onion domes,” the rounded turret-like domes seen in Russian architecture. “He had no limits or boundaries; if he liked something and wanted to do it, he learned how and did it.”
Ivan employs this trait in his own work. Once he has an idea, he tinkers with miniature wooden models of his vision, sometimes for weeks or months. Then, once he’s worked out what he wants to create, he begins to build, figuring out how to do it as he goes along.
That’s how he ended up as a sculptor of abstract art. His prior experience as a rancher gave him the skills and confidence to be comfortable with tools and build things without a plan.
One of his most iconic creations is a giant outdoor sphere of intricately crisscrossing metal welded together and powder coated to withstand the elements. He’s made them in a multitude of colors, metal patterns, and sizes. His largest version is 20 feet tall and took 7,000 feet of one-half-inch round steel rod to build. His spheres grace homes, businesses, and gardens throughout the US and beyond, including one lucky sphere overlooking the Italian Mediterranean.
Perusing his Instagram feed (@ivanmcleanart), it seems that spheres magically pop up in various landscapes—mountains, plains, gardens, pools—standing out yet strangely fitting in. “Everyone is attracted to spheres in nature,” he explained. An image of Ivan working atop the twenty-foot sphere makes his art seem more than impressive; it looks dangerous.
“This is very physical work. I work outdoors because I need the airflow when welding, and moving the sculptures and metal takes a lot of strength. I’ve got maybe ten more years to do this,” said the sixty-year-old.
He’s best known for his spheres, but he’s also created a series of rounded stone sculptures that he has named “Re Invention,” and his 14-foot tall, 3000-pound fire-breathing dragon, Trogdor, is so complex that it’s stupefying to think of the talent and time it took to create it. It now resides in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, along with a 10-foot disco ball sphere he created. “You never know where pieces will end up,” he said.
McLean was the featured artist for Yountville’s 2023 Art Sip & Stroll, and many of his miniature models (he calls them “maquettes”) are displayed at his “Outside In” exhibit, currently on display at the Steve Rogers Gallery at the Yountville Community Center until August 4, 2023.
About the Yountville gallery, he raved, “They have fantastic, amazing people. It’s incredible what volunteers do.” And he credits his success to the support of his wife and three daughters. But it’s clear his life role models, his parents, set him on a steady path and helped guide him by example. “I was very lucky I had parents who said, ‘Do whatever makes you happy.’”