One of our favourite artists Bruce McLean was chosen to present a keynote speech as part of Frieze Talks, a series curated by the editors of Frieze Magazine. In his inimitable and playful style, McLean delivered the talk in the form of a performance in which he bizarrely interviewed himself.
McLean is a legendary figure in the British art world. In the 1960s he studied at the Glasgow School of Art then attended Central St. Martins College with fellow radical sculptors Gilbert and George. Since then he has created artwork through the media of painting, sculpture and performance. McLean describes the stifling environment in which sculpture was taught at the time: “The St. Martin’s sculpture forum would avoid every broader issue, discussing for hours the position of one piece of metal in relation to another. Twelve adult men with pipes would walk for hours around sculpture and mumble.”
In 1969 McLean was included in the seminal show “When Attitudes Become Form”. Ironically he used his inclusion in the highly regarded show as a platform to begin mocking what he saw as the machismo and posturing of minimal and conceptual art. This rebellious and playful attitude would manifest in his future artwork. In the 1970s while teaching at Maidstone College McLean founded the concept band ‘Nice Style’ who were billed as ‘The World’s First Pose Band’ (take note One Direction) and played a number of gigs using their bodies to perform as sculptures rather than actually playing instruments. In 1972 McLean was offered an illustrious exhibition at the Tate Gallery at the age of just 27. He opted, with sarcastic intent, for a ‘retrospective’ lasting only one day. It seems McLean pre-empted the transient nature of the pop-up show that is prevalent in the art world today.
McLean doesn’t see himself as an artist. “Art is a three letter word and I’m not interested in three letter words. I’m interested in: Punk, Pose, Jazz… not art.” He prefers the title ‘Action Sculptor’ because of the influence of the abstract action painter Jackson Pollock. McLean refers to the video of Pollock smoking a cigarette whilst rhythmically applying paint to a canvas as: “The most subliminal and sublime shot in the history of cinema”. McLean goes on to say: “I like Jackson Pollock, because he was an action painter and I like the action of Jackson Pollock, not so much the paintings, they had nothing to do with it. Him doing it was the work, not the thing he’s done. I think I’m an action sculptor, it’s not the sculpture that’s important it’s the action”.
In recent years painting and printmaking have become increasing more important in Bruce McLean’s practice. Between 2002 and 2010 McLean acted as head of Graduate Painting at the prestigious Slade School of Fine Art. Even when painting something as classic and conventional as a still life scene, McLean manages to inject his mischievous and rebellious spirit but using vivid punchy colours and boldly simplified shapes.