Bruce McLean and Mel Gooding - Knife Edge Press: The Complete Works (so far)

September 2013

Publication: The Times

Artist Bruce McLean and critic Mel Gooding are a great double-act. McLean, the mercurial, humorous, highly creative Glaswegian, and Gooding, the rather more ponderous and mild-mannered southern Englishman, met over thirty years ago in their local pub in Barnes, south-west London. On a number of occasions, McLean had seen Gooding sitting in a corner quietly reading a book and found the writer’s behaviour somewhat irritating, as he freely admits.


They are sitting in front of a large audience, which contains such luminaries as Simon Groom, Director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. The format of the evening is a tried and tested one. Gooding and Mclean zing and spark off each other like Morecombe and Wise. But their good-humoured banter has a more serious purpose. It underlines the creativity of both men and shows the symbiotic relationship between art and criticism, writing and the visual image.


Mclean and Gooding set up the Knife Edge Press in 1985, at a time when their collaborative relationship was already well-established. This show documents the journey of this vibrant, eclectic venture which until now has produced 11 limited edition books and folios such as ‘A Potato Against a Black Background’ (1988), ‘Ladder’ (1986) and ‘A Scone Off a Plate’ (1990). Gooding published a major monograph on McLean in 1990.


As McLean and Gooding continue their verbal dialogue against a background of images from ‘Ladder’ (sheets of big bold black with images of heads and ladders etched in white) a series of projections highlight the creative process. One shows an email exchange discussing the cover of their most recent publication, ‘Shapes of Sculpture’. Elsewhere, text and image are projected on the gallery walls above a long, purpose-made table, on which the publications are displayed.


Mclean’s work is characterised by big, bold imagery, full of vibrant colour, featuring favourite motifs such as ladders, hats, ties and heads. Against these are juxtaposed Gooding thoughtful, poetic but passionate texts.


Gooding recounts that press’s first edition,  ‘Dream Work’, was made in Berlin in conjunction with the master print-maker Michael Schönke during McLean’s DAAD (German Academic Exchange) Fellowship in the city.  The book was inspired by the flamboyant and colourful livres d’artistes made by such visionaries as Miró, Matisse, Picasso and Braque.


This series of twenty-three screen-prints (in an edition of 140) in fifteen colours shows McLean’s vigorous approach to image-making. Here a predominant motif is the Greek amphora which McLean combines with imagery of Aphrodite in a skewed commentary on greed and consumerism. Gooding’s text creates a rich counterpoint: “Aphrodite going for black   rises   reclaimed amphora/ reclining marine wine holder”. Another image in the series, a black battle ship, went on to form the basis of series of McLean’s paintings in 1986.


There is no precise definition for the term ‘artist’s book’ but it’s apt that these remarkable examples are presented in a city which has a collection dedicated to genre and which recently hosted an international conference, Impact 8, on printmaking.  


McLean and Gooding continue an ‘invisible residency,’ contributing text and image remotely, for the duration of the show.