Publication: The Times
There can be no doubt that Will Maclean – formerly Professor of Fine Art at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, and prominent Royal Scottish Academician – is one of Scotland’s most accomplished artists. This show of around 20 small and medium sized box constructions with found objects, collages, prints and other mixed media works demonstrates Maclean’s increasing depth, maturity and skill. The work is exhibited in a small improvised gallery in the university’s art history department and is an initiative of senior lecturer Dr Tom Normand, an authority on contemporary Scottish art.
This is a demonstration of how skilled artistry and craftsmanship honed with time, experience and emotional depth combine to produce work that feels complete and totally assured.
Many years ago a small but heated debate took place between a small number of critics in respect of Maclean’s worth as an artist. The debate veered into some uncomfortable areas because some London-based critics questioned the relevance of mounting an exhibition by a Scottish artist in a prestigious venue during the Edinburgh Festival. The sub-text was that this particular Scottish artist (and by extension Scottish art in general) was parochial and had no place being shown in an international context.
The contention had no validity then or now. Maclean’s work can hold its own in any context, as his biography makes abundantly clear. The work here deserves to be seen not only in Scotland but around the globe. The themes are both particular and universal; they reach out to any culture which has experienced loss, displacement and who have lived with and by the sea.
Maclean’s work has almost always had a narrative content but this is seldom linear or single-layered. As if to demonstrate this, a series of works entitled Lantern-Slide Series uses the metaphor of physical layering and mirroring to create stories which have the logic of dream and reverie. They are histories which are being written, as well as imagined; texts which reveal and conceal, so that literal ‘truths’ and direct ‘meanings’ are dispelled. The viewer has to work hard to peer and decipher as the artist plays visual tricks, compelling the eye to flit back and forth over the layered images.
‘Spectre/North Sea’ incorporates an antique lantern slide which was used as naval training aid. (An adjacent work, ‘Dive Bombing,’ has the words ‘Lecture Library R.N College Greenwich’). It shows a map of the north coast of Belgium with the mirrored silhouettes of battleships and cruisers.
Embedded among these images is what appears to be the jawbone of a small mammal, on top of which has been placed a felt cross resembling the kind of object which appeared frequently in the work of Joseph Beuys.
Elsewhere as work such as The Offering 1942 recalls how money was collected for naval personnel during WWII; but as is the case with many such box constructions and assemblages, it has a religious tone. In this case this ceremony of offertory and the collection of alms is invoked.
It seems apposite that in the run-up to the celebrations marking this sea-girt university’s 600th anniversary the work of this celebrated artist forms such a significant prologue.