Bruce McLean

Study for ‘Possibly a Nude by a Coal Bunker’


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Bruce McLean born 1944
Oil pastel and acrylic on photographic paper
Support: 4000 x 1387 mm
Purchased 1982

Not on display

Catalogue entry

T03411 Study for ‘Possibly a Nude by a Coal Bunker’ 1980

Black oil pastel and acrylic on photographic paper, five panels, each 157 1/2 × 54 5/8 (4000 × 1387)
Not inscribed
Purchased from Anthony d'Offay Ltd. (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Prov: Anthony d'Offay 1981
Exh: Bruce McLean, Kunsthalle, Basel, May–June 1981 (not in catalogue); New Art at the Tate Gallery, Tate Gallery, September–October 1983 (no catalogue number)
Lit: Annelie Pohlen, ‘Bruce McLean (Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland, exhibition review)’, Artforum, XX, 1981, p.92

During 1980, the artist had been working in one of the studios at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith. T03411 was painted there immediately prior to the performance of ‘Possibly a Nude by a Coal Bunker’ on 20 September 1980. A photograph of this performance is printed on p.53 of Bruce McLean, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1981. In a telephone conversation with the compiler (2 July, 1986), Bruce McLean commented:

They were like working notations done in the foyer of the Riverside Studio, on the wall, in front of which the performance took place called ‘Possibly a Nude by a Coal Bunker’, done the day or night before the performance, which was just me and the naked lady who was standing by a coal shuttle. The piece [the performance] was to do with how nothing works so slides were projected but failed to come through.

Asked about the title of T03411, the artist said:

- autobiographical, well, Scotland has an obsession with coal bunkers, I don't know why. I was thinking of those beautiful classical nude figures which are always attached to a tree stump, never attached to anything like a wheel-barrow, so I thought why not attach it to a coal scuttle, well this became a coal bunker [in T03411].

While McLean was working on the piece, the panels were fixed to the wall by large tacks reinforced with masking tape. The entire work was trimmed and individually framed under the artist's instructions in 1982 at the Tate Gallery. When arranged in the correct sequence (the pieces were numbered temporarily from 1–5 in black felt pen on masking tape on the reverse; the tape has since been removed) the total width of the work is approximately 26 feet. McLean continued some imagery directly across panels 3 and 4; two similar shapes, one large and one small face-motif, are divided by the frame/border line. The work reveals his preoccupation with ‘lines of movement’ which are complemented by the contrasting black ground and the unmixed vibrant colours, mint green, dark lilac and blue.

A related work to T03411, also titled ‘Study for “Possibly a Nude by a Coal Bunker”’ 1980, Anthony d'Offay), explores similar ideas on a smaller scale, which Hetty Einzig refers to as ‘mini-performances - memories of past works’ (‘Bruce McLean (Anthony d'Offay Gallery)’, Arts Review, Vol.33, November 1981, p.502).

Similar figuration to T03411 can be seen in ‘Pillar to Pillar, Post to Post’ (1980, acrylic and wax crayon on photographic paper, Anthony d'Offay) and ‘Yucca Gloriosa (with trellis)’ (1980, acrylic and wax crayon on photographic paper, Anthony d'Offay) although neither has such a dramatic colour scheme as T03411.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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