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Bruce McLean: A Hot Sunset & Shade Paintings at Bernard Jacobson

December 10, 2016

ArtsPainting | by Harry Seymour


With occupations that include action sculptor, painter, ceramicist, filmmaker and performance artist to his name, Bruce Mclean’s latest solo show at Bernard Jacobson presents a warming reprieve from December in London. A Hot Sunset and Shade Paintings presents all new works made in the past year that explore light, shadows and heat.

Bruce McLean, Shade Painting Blue, 2016, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 265 x 265 cm, Courtesy of Bernard Jacobson Gallery.
Bruce McLean, Shade Painting Blue, 2016, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 265 x 265 cm, Courtesy of Bernard Jacobson Gallery.

A versatile artist, well known and loved for his rebellious spirit and anarchic humour, McLean’s work traverses the mediums from paintings and ceramics to innovative film and performance pieces. Born in Glasgow in 1944 and studying at Glasgow School of Art and then at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London, Mclean went on to become Head of Graduate Painting at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. At the age of 27, McLean was the youngest artist to have been awarded a retrospective at the Tate in 1972, and he has enjoyed international recognition with solo shows at major museums and galleries including the Whitechapel Gallery, ICA and MOMA Oxford. In 1985 he was the winner of the John Moores Painting Prize, and now works form his studio in West London, where his focus has been on paintings of increasingly large size, and on sculptural film pieces. McLean’s latest works are both vibrant and vivid, presenting strong colours and bold shapes.

McLean’s Shade paintings are a series of striking works that demonstrate his uncanny ability to make ‘big art out of small details’ (Louisa Buck, 2012). The series of six, of which the compositions are split vertically in two, assume an air of continuity and as a group they simultaneously command and warm their spaces. Silhouetted against striking backgrounds, these ginormous minimalist paintings present ‘hot sunsets’, lit by warmth and contrasted with a cool shade. Pops of neon colour scatter their surfaces and render dense black lines, in which one attempts to search for the figurative; for some familiar outlines, deeper into a field of abstraction.

Bruce McLean, Shade Painting Red, 2016, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 265 x 265 cm, Courtesy of Bernard Jacobson Gallery.
Bruce McLean, Shade Painting Red, 2016, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 265 x 265 cm, Courtesy of Bernard Jacobson Gallery.

Similarly abstract are the two six metre long Sunsets. Created in screen-print and formica on aluminium, these minimal strips of colour evoke sandy, breezy tropics in blue, green and orange as encountered on the ground floor, while below, in the belly of the gallery, the blazing Sahara is embodied in yellow, brown and shocking pink.

Bruce Mclean, Shade Painting Purple, 2016, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 265 x 265cm, courtesy of Bernard Jacobson Gallery.
Bruce Mclean, Shade Painting Purple, 2016, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 265 x 265cm, courtesy of Bernard Jacobson Gallery.

Diverse as ever, McLean’s select exhibition contains two mixed media works; presented on the ground floor of the gallery, the Untitled paintings are comprised of dense, black organic shapes that veer to the abstraction on neutral backgrounds, adorned with daubs of coloured paper that on some sides have been hastily cut and others impatiently ripped, a nod to the rebellious humour of McLean who’s body of oeuvre comprises witty sculptures made of rubbish and even his own body.

The works are minimal but not, as McLean is often concerned, “too minimal”; familiar and yet at once unknown perhaps. The pieces come together to present a show of heat, light, dark and depth in which the viewer is warmed, stimulated and somewhat comforted by subtle details.

By Holland Druruy

Bruce Mclean: A Hot Sunset and Shade Paintings 2 December – 28 January 2017 at Bernard Jacobson Gallery, 28 Duke Street St. James’s, London, SW1Y 6AG.