Bruce McLean is one of the major figures of contemporary British Art. Born in 1944 he studied at Glasgow School of Art (1961-63) and at St. Martin’s in London (1963-66), where he was taught by Sir Anthony Caro, Phillip King, Bill Tucker, Isaac Witkin and Peter Atkins. The course was very rigorous and encouraged a questioning enquiry into the nature of sculpture past, present and future. McLean responded by making sculpture out of rubbish, water and other impermanent materials, and by using his own body to make action sculptures- and impersonate sculptures by others. Also produced were photographic works in which he often appeared. McLean lead the development of Conceptual art in Britain in the 1960s, often working outside in the urban and suburban landscape. Some of his works brilliantly sent up the solemnity of the art world and mocked established art forms. In 1972 he was given a one-day retrospective at the Tate Gallery at the age of 27 (King for a Day).
McLean’s work is in a permanent state of movement and invention; from the late 1960s, his range of media has included painting, printmaking, sculpture, film, photography drawing and live work; in all of which humour, scepticism and wit are central. His work seeks to challenge the concept of ‘sculpture’ and indeed of ‘art’ by creating work that questions establishment thinking, materials and methods of display.
After St. Martin’s McLean went on to teach at numerous art schools including The Slade School of Fine Art, where he became Head of Graduate Painting (2002-2010). He has obtained international recognition for his paintings and prints, work with film, theatre and books. McLean’s bold and confident approach to printmaking proved influential to his contemporaries and also to a generation of younger artists. The making of prints and posters has been a central aspect of his work and continues to inform his sculptural investigations.
His work is in private and public collections worldwide including the Tate Gallery, Arts Council of Great Britain, Victoria & Albert Museum, the National Museum of Modern Art, Edinburgh and the British Council. He has had numerous one-man shows in Europe, North America, and Japan.
McLean has participated in many major international exhibitions since the 1960s, highlights include: When Attitudes Become Form, KunstHalle, Bern (1969), Information- Museum of Modern Art, New York (1970), The British Avant Garde, New York Cultural Centre , New York (1971), Documenta 6, Kassel (1977), Art in the Seventies, Biennale, Venice (1980), The 4th Sydney Biennale, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (1981), A New Spirit in Painting, Royal Academy of Arts, London, Zeitgeist, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin (1982), Documenta 7, Museum Fredericianum, Kassel (1982), Thought and Action, Laforet Museum, Tokyo (1983), New Art, Tate Gallery, London (1983), An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture, Museum of Modern Art, New York (1984), The Critical Eye, Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven (1984), 11 European Painters, National Gallery, Athens (1985), British Art in the 20th Century, Royal Academy of Arts, London (1987), Great British Art Show, McLennan Gallery, Glasgow (1990), Out of Action; Between Performance and the Object, 1949-79, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1997), Bruce McLean and William Alsop, Two Chairs, Milton Keynes Gallery (2002), Body and Void: Echoes of Moore in Contemporary Art, The Henry Moore Foundation, Hertfordshire 2014). McLean was awarded the John Moores Painting Prize in 1985.
Now approaching his seventh decade McLean’s energy, vision and work ethic remain undimmed. 2014 saw two major exhibitions exploring his work: ‘Bruce McLean: Another Condition of Sculpture’ at Leeds Art Gallery, and ‘Bruce McLean: Sculpture, Painting, Photography, Film’ at Firstsite in Colchester, both shows included works spanning five decades. McLean’s work featured in the Royal Scottish Academy’s annual exhibition in 2016 and can currently be seen in Tate’s ‘Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1979’ exhibition. He lives and works in west London.