Born: 1944, Scotland
One of the greatest living British artists McLean is a performance artist and painter. He studied at Glasgow School of Art from 1961 to 1963, and from 1963 to 1966 at St Martin’s School of Art, London, where he and others rebelled against what appeared to be the formalist academicism of his teachers, among whom were Anthony Caro and Phillip King.
In 1965 he abandoned conventional studio production in favour of impermanent sculptures using materials such as water, along with performances of a generally satirical nature directed against the art world. In Pose Work for Plinths I (1971; London, Tate), a photographic documentation of one such performance, he used his own body to parody the poses of Henry Moore’s celebrated reclining figures. When in 1972 he was offered an exhibition at the Tate Gallery, he opted, with obviously mocking intent, for a ‘retrospective’ lasting only one day.
In 1971 McLean established Nice Style, billed as ‘The World’s First Pose Band’, while teaching at Maidstone College of Art. With them and in other collaborative performances (Academic Board, 1975; Sorry! A Minimal Musical in Parts, 1977; The Masterwork: Award Winning Fishknife, 1979), he continued to use humour to confront the pretensions of the art world and wider social issues such as the nature of bureaucracy and institutional politics. From the mid 1970s, while continuing to mount occasional performances, McLean turned increasingly to painting, in a witty and subversive parody of current expressionist styles, and to ceramics.
His work is widely collected and in its many forms reaches high prices at auction.