The other night I phoned my friend after a tiring day’s teaching and asked if he fancied a pint. Sadly he couldn’t make it, so instead I went down to the studio. I’d spent the last three nights stretching and priming a canvas in readiness to attempt a painting that evening, but when it came to it, the beer and a chat with my friend seemed the more preferable option. I could have done something sensible like watch the telly or read a book but my mind doesn’t seem to think like that after all this time. The studio was the only other real option I had.
I’ve just finished reading ‘John McLean’, a monograph on the great Scottish abstract painter by Ian Collins. I really enjoyed it, and there are a few passages describing McLean’s paintings that particularly resonated with me that I’d like to share. The first is from a review by critic and essayist Tim Hilton:
‘A single mark in a McLean painting will evidently have been made by a single gesture, the tender primal touch of painting on canvas. Consider how complete and meaningful such a single mark can be: in its perfectly judged size; in its direction; in its viscosity, or dryness, or comparative dryness; in the way it can, elegantly or boldly, turn upon itself like a flourish or stand squarely. There is something newly born about this, just as there is great sophistication in it. But it is sometimes the case in art that it takes such a sophistication to make us see simply. And McLean is simply a master of touch.’
The Glasgow Museums Director, Julian Spalding for the city’s Museum Of Modern Art, writes this second. He wrote:
‘Some artists begin by looking at the world, then concentrate on what interests them by leaving things out. Others begin with nothing – an empty canvas – and build up a picture from there. This is like the difference between a Shakespearean tragedy and a Japanese Noh drama. Shakespeare begins with the noise of the world and leads you to a moment of silence and death. Japanese Noh drama begins with silence and stillness and slowly builds up to a dance. John McLean adopts the Eastern approach. His art relies on making the right mark on nothing. This requires concentration, thought, feeling and daring, so that everything he wants to say can be contained in the one action. When you tune your mind to McLean’s art the colour and the shapes in his paintings dance. The title ‘Strathspey’ painting may not conjure up for you an image of people dancing, but McLean’s picture is actually closer than a representational painting would have been to conveying the sensation of the dance itself.’