EXHIBITION CURRENT 30 SEPTEMBER TO 18 OCTOBER 2020
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McLean Edwards (1972) has held solo exhibitions since 1995 in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Goulburn Regional Gallery and internationally in Jakarta, Indonesia. He was awarded the 2019 Sir John Sulman Prize and the 2019 Kings School Art Prize. Edwards has been a finalist in the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize (2014), the Sulman Prize (2004, 2001) and the Archibald Prize (2013, 2010, 2007, 2006, 2004). His work is held in the collections of the Australian War Memorial Museum, Canberra; Artbank and several prominent regional, tertiary and corporate collections. Edwards studied at the Canberra School of Art. His work has been covered by prominent Australian art publications including Artist Profile (2019 cover, 2009), Australian Art Collector (2011), Art Monthly Australia (2011) and Art & Australia (2006).
And this isn't that...
McLean hasn’t made the pictures. He says not to worry: they’ll be finished. “All I have to do is paint them.”
Some time after McLean’s divorce, he stopped making self-portraits. “If I went any further with the self-portraiture,” he says, “I would be risking irony.”
It’s an odd thought: that all the other paintings, all the biplanes and garden gnomes, the dresses and beet-red ears, were sincere.
McLean is outraged. A man wants to buy a painting of a man cooking. “He thinks it’s about that. It’s probably not about that.”
The man says McLean must be compulsive, to make so many pictures. “Compulsion? That’s not – that’s a cheap shot. Come on.”
A thought occurs to McLean, but to nobody else. He is like a sheepdog, running up and down the sides of the conversation. “My hero is Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man, because he doesn’t care. He just does.”
He turns and runs back the other way: “There’s no compulsion. There’s sex, there’s being sober, and then there’s the virus. That’s a pretty lethal triumvirate: sex, sobriety and isolation.”
Where other artists use portraiture to interrogate the self, McLean uses it for invention. He is forever painting himself into being.
McLean says he’s made 63 paintings for the show. He just needs to pick 10. “This is a show with a little bit of gravel in it. You know what I mean?”
McLean calls because he is leaving soon. He has a ticket for London. His studio has been cleaned out. “I’ve been looking for clarity,” he says. “I want the show to be boring, but exceptionally boring. London brings that out of you. Really – geography is important.”
I ask McLean whose work he sees when he closes his eyes. There is a silence, long enough for him to repeat the question to himself. “Pollock,” he says. “Pollock and Munch. No – Pollock and Georgia O’Keeffe. Americans. And when I open my eyes: Nolan. Always Nolan.”
McLean used to draw in bars. In London, he was drawing in museums. You can tell.
I ask if McLean realised he had stopped making self-portraits, or if it just happened. “Having an expensive, broken heart – that’s informed everything,” he says. “It would be a lie to suggest otherwise. I was weakened and vulnerable. That’s not something I’ve moved on from. I don’t believe in moving on.”
McLean wants to talk more about museums. He has spent eight months looking at other people’s paintings. “It makes you straighten your tie. That’s what I’ve been doing: straightening my tie.”
What he really wants to talk about is compulsion. It has got to him, that man who bought the painting of the man cooking. “There’s no compulsion,” McLean says. “This is what you do if you are adroit and you address the urges in your life. This is what you do. Compulsion is what – a lack of control? That’s what it means. Look it up. And this isn’t that.”
Erik Jensen, 2020