Catalogue entry

Bruce McLean born 1944

P77055 Large Warhead 1984

Screenprint 881 x 1241 (34 5/8 x 48 7/8) on wove paper, same size; printed by Michael Schönke, Berlin and published by Bernard Jacobson Gallery in an edition of 3
Inscribed ‘Bruce McLean' b.r. and ‘3/3' b.l.
Purchased from Bernard Jacobsob Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1984

P77055 is from an edition of only three screenprints though the same image was produced in several alternative editions using different colours. At the same time McLean also made a parallel edition, entitled ‘Small Warhead', which explored the same imagery in a smaller format.

The image is of three heads and a gun-boat printed in black against a blue coloured ground. One head, shown upright and full-face, is presented in much bolder outlines than the other images. Of the two secondary heads one is upside-down and one is placed on its side. They both smoke pipes and the ‘smoke' of the upside-down head's pipe merges with the heavy black outline of the foreground head's shoulder. The boat appears in the background, diagonally from right to left. An interplay between foreground and background is created by overlaying linear details so that, for example, the two mounted guns on the deck of the ship are seen through the foreground head. The choice of medium, the composition and quality of line suggest the swift creation of the image.

The man with a pipe is a recurrent motif in McLean's work. It is one of several means by which McLean makes references to modern culture and art. The use of these ‘props' may stem from McLean's performance work. Norman Rosenthal has written that McLean's performance ‘demanded props. So the props were integrated into the paintings, and became a repertory of symbols that echoed the performance, stood in for the action' (Norman Rosenthal, introduction in Bruce McLean : Simple Manners or Physical Violence, exh. cat., Galerie Gmyrek, Düsseldorf 1985, [p.7]). According to Mel Gooding, McLean creates

absurd actors, unaware and self-absorbed (who) are conspicuously adorned with the ridiculous accoutrements of the contemporary Bourgeois life - Gucci shoes, Gucci bags - or wearing badges which signify their status as subjects of ‘modern' art (the cubist pipe, the William Scott saucepan) ... These figures are separate from one another and from the world of passionately apprehended things ... Their alienation is signalled by the recurrent McLean symbol of division, the wedge that undergoes countless witty transformations (Mel Gooding, ‘New Work/Good Work' in Bruce McLean, exh. cat., Galerie Fahnemann, Berlin 1984, [p.8])


These transformations include a step ladder, a wedge of Brie, the club-membership tie and, in P77055, the form of the war ship itself.

The title of P77055 is related to a performance piece enacted by McLean in 1982 at the Kunstlerhaus Bethaniem, Berlin. The piece was called ‘Une Danse Contemporaine' and the character parts included ‘wedge head', ‘culture head', ‘bridge head', ‘spear head' and ‘war head'. McLean explained that the performance piece (like so much of his work) was ‘about positioning and repositioning in the art world and about the use of art/culture as a weapon (instead of nuclear power) in order for some powers to attempt to gain world supremacy' (Bruce McLean in Bruce McLean, exh. cat., Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe 1984, p.33).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.410-11