John McLean has been at the forefront of abstract painting throughout
the last quarter of the Twentieth Century. For many of those years
he worked with close valued colour. His being deeply moved by the
great Matisse retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York
of 1992 and by the similarly ambitious Miro show in Barcelona shortly
afterwards seems to have triggered his using black more; black as
a colour rather than a dark value. Like Matisse, he developed a
strong, intuitive yet sophisticated understanding of the relationship
between shapes and the field around them. The drama of Miro's palette
also found a response in McLean's work.
'The Space Between', McLean's most recent solo exhibition at the
Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh and at Flower's East, London, referred
to the possibility of making space as palpable as the things in
it. The title is taken from an essay by the late Peter Smithson,
in which the architect traced back his experience of the positive
use of emptiness to a municipal housing scheme of Mies Van Der Rohe's
in the afrikanischestrasse, Berlin. The exquisitely judged space
between its simple cuboid blocks and the road was crucial to the
success of the design.
This is paralleled in McLean's work by the painter's shapes, which
not only cohere among themselves but also bind together with the
ground, forcing the latter into just as frontal a role as the elements
floating on them.
To continue the analogy with architecture, there is also a sense
in which McLean's paintings command much more space than they might
conventionally be seen to take up on the wall. They activate interiors
that would otherwise read as inert. Because the invitation is as
much to look across the paintings as into them, they seem to have
as much architectural presence as the parts making up the buildings
It should go without saying that all this is achieved through an
inspired attention to the minutest variations in touch, edge and
surface as well as of colour, shape and rhythm.
John McLean was born in Liverpool in 1939. Selected exhibitions
include Talbot Rice Gallery University of Edinburgh 1975, Nicola
Jacobs Gallery 1980, Byck Gallery Kentucky 1982, Artspace Galleries
Aberdeen 1982, Kapil Jariwala NY 1988, Francis Graham-Dixon Gallery
London 1991, Talbot Rice gallery Edinburgh 1994, Flowers East London
1999, Flowers East London 2004.
He has had regular one man shows in Scotland, Canada, the USA and
England. His work is held at numerous corporate and public collections
including De Beers London and Tate Gallery.