Like many of Bruce’s compositions, there is no clear distinction between foreground and background in this landscape, which features a glowing yellow sun against a contrasting violet sky and two figures swimming under the sea’s surface while one floats along the top. The image appears tilted due to a diagonal rather than horizontal line to create two distinct areas above and below the sea’s surface, producing a disorienting effect. There is no cohesive sense of proportion or depth, with the figures being the same size and what appears to be an exaggerated white shell almost overwhelming them. However, despite the simplified and abstract depiction of the landscape many aspects of the work create a unified whole.
Blocks of vibrant, flat colour create a collage-like composition, and bold, simple shapes are repeated throughout the work. The figures themselves appear in self-contained rectangles of black above the surface and bold blue and red below. It is as if the outlines of each figure have been scratched out to reveal the colours beneath, creating a relationship between the two areas. Warmth seems to emanate from the sun in the upper section of the work, possibly relating to the ‘Hot’ of the title. The shape of the crudely-drawn circle is mirrored in the three similar shapes under the water and of course the simplified figures appear in each section. This has the effect of drawing the eye over the entire scene.
Humour and satire are an integral part of Bruce’s work and his choice of medium could be a comment on the relationship between art and commodity culture as screenprinting is a popular technique for mass production. The figures are depicted in a highly linear version of the classical nude, this subject being a great contrast to this modern medium and which creates a playful atmosphere. The nude figure enclosed is repeated throughout McLean’s body of work and here their alienation and isolation from each other seems to be a reference to modern culture, possibly a comment on self-absorbed humans separated from each other and the world.
Born in Glasgow in 1944, Bruce McLean is a painter and performance artist who studied at Glasgow School of Art between 1961 and 1963. He attended an advanced sculpture course at St Martin’s School of Art in London between 1963 and 1966 where he was taught by the so-called New Generation of modern sculptors, such as Anthony Caro. However, Bruce began to adopt a different approach, rejecting what he believed to be the conventional and dated academicism of his teachers, by making impermanent sculptures out of materials such as rubbish. His performances were also of a satirical nature directed against the contemporary art world. In 1985 Bruce joined the Slade School of Fine Art as Professor and Head of Graduate Painting and in the same year was awarded the John Moore’s Painting Prize. He now lives and works in Menorca.
With thanks to Tate for artist information
With thanks to Menorca Art Gallery for artist information and video