Review of Peter McLean's Work. Circa 1995.

Demonstrating that there are many paths available in the pluralism of postmodernist practice, the drawings and other worksPeter McLean’s have remarkable integrity and staying power. The offer a sharp contrast w ith many of the more publicized products of contemporary “one-off” spectacularism. (Damian Hirst said of the installation of some of his works in the new London Saatchi “museum,” that it was not a special event as most of the pieces had been seen several times before!) Can one imagine a Rembrandt, Goya or Motherwell saying such a thing?

Peter McLean, Drawings

Home Equity Loan (At the Casino)
A young blond Caucasian male, sits at a table with pen in hand. He is encircled by heavy rope which apparently ties a model of a small tract house to his back. A bowie type knife zips from the left edge of the picture into his back. He has on a pair of full length leather chaps like those of coyboys and rodeo performers and is nonchalantly or distractedly signing a document. The document, titled “Home Equity” is being held down on the table by a heavy dark “native-American looking” man with a melange of appropriate features – heavy lips and large nose, pudgy face, strong chin, close-cropped hair. He is dressed in a loose blouse, beaded vest and string tie. With tired and sad eyes the Indian fixes blankly on some middle distance, either bored with his role in Casino finances, or gazing into a past freighted with pain and loss. Whichever attitude pertains, the relation between the two men and the event itself has an overall feeling of inevitability.

Via gambling casino entrepreneurship Native Americans take their own reparations and exact retribution by amplifying America’s social and political decay. Backgrounding the two protaganists is a wall/ dream space depicting a casino surrounded by endless rows of cars. Abutted to this is a smaller scene of figures hoeing and planting a furrowed field. The rural famland recalls a “self-sustaining” agrian culture as mythic perhaps as the lines of social association, tribal practice and conjunct living used to deterrmine the authenticity of nativeness.

GENERAL OBS. Through the steady accrual of ongoing events and the concomittant constructions of its thinkers and writers history is made. Similarly we are psychically redone (somethng like cell replacement?) by the flow of continuing experience, further engagements with our own personal histories and evolving histories around us. McLean’s pictures remake history, and we are remade by them.

Fortunately we still have only partial understanding of what pictures are, how they work in our consciousness, and how visuality in general participates in our thoughts, feelings, memories, dreams and imagining. The ubiquitous processes of language may be just as indecipherable but have they much more written about them. The connectedness of image and word, pictures with language, either implicit (as learned and applied to the visual world silently or orally) or as organized texts on, near, around, behind, prior to or embedded in our engagement with pictures all remain incompletely comprehended and mysterious.

MOBIL WARRIORS, is McLean’s paean to ‘Desert Storm,” America’s television war on Iraq. Like a WWII RECRUITMENT poster, aN endless rank of warriors armed with gas pump nozzles at the ready, while jet bombers soar in the distance and Mobil Oil Company emblems of Pegasus, land on top of their helmets. A misty cartoon face of the paramount “Four-War” entertainer, Bob Hope, backs up the combatants, fighting for America’s honor and its proliferating SUV’s. (NOTE: What are insignias on helmets? Just abstract figures?)

The jamming together of of mythic, political, commercial, cartoon and expressive modes with disconcerting subjects typifies Mclean’s methodology. Here, it functions to parody and challenge the country’s ethos of militarism as it continues to thwart the viewers’ desire to have pictures which are coherent, complete, conforming and comforting.

In BARBARA RESCUES HER PIGLETS FROM FLOOD WATERS, a more prosaic and local catastrophe is depicted. Too extraordinary to be fictional, the abandoned school bus an apparent pen for a (pride? name.....) of piglets skulking, leaning and squealing with the rising flood waters, are ferried to safety by a woman in a small punt. That the bus should be inhabited by piglets has a certain kind of logic, pigs being among the smarter of domesticated feed animals. Farming our kids out to the feed lots of education is a ubiquitous practice: tens of thousands of long yellow boxes, lurching across the nation’s streets twice a day, filled with screaching and squealing squirming bodies.

CHOP CHOP (Jane Fonda, Ted Turner and Jimmy Carter at Atlanta Playoff Game) The Alliance Against Racial Mascots is a coalition of civil rights groups in California. Its mission is to remove all reference to race, ethnicity, nationality or tribal group, in school, team, club and other organizational identities, rituals, practices, displays and literature. Since about 1970, over half of the nation’s schools with Indian mascots or nicknames have changed them according to Morning Star Institute.

(Perhaps we will soon lose all street, development, town and city names and even geographical places, features and landmarks with names of indigenous origin, and the conquest and disappearance of native races will be complete with the exception of gambling casinos.)

Carrying forward the pulp and film mythologies about American Indians/Native Americans and their Strength, Ferocity, Aggression, Frightening Aspect, Barbarity, Cleverness and Tribal unity, mascots of America’s school, college and professional sports. Some teams will not release their identity from the densely packed fictional constructions of the red-man, initiated at first contact and buildt upon ever since. The Atlanta (Georgia) Braves’ fans with their rythmic “Chop-Chop” using foam rubber tomahawks and a ranting chorus of “waaah wah wahawa” expropriated from bad 1950’s Hollywood westerns, urge their team on to victory, and mock and disturb their opponents. Braves owner, Ted turner, his then wife, Jane Fonda and Jimmy Carter, ex-president from Plains, Georgia, depicted as skeletons. Many native American skeletons dug up for scientific research have ben returned to tribes for proper re-burial, but tens of thousands of Native American skeletons still lie in American universities, institutes of archaeology and dusty museums unclaimed and unidentifiable as to tribal source. These mass exhumations were a strange practice, of 19th and 20th century ethnology and they seem to have had motives both deeper and darker than the purely scientific. Here in McLean’s “Chop Chop...” the skeletons come back to haunt modern sport and entertainment.