Richard McLean


One of the 13 seminal Photorealist painters, Richard McLean (b.1934, Hoquiam, WA; d.2014, Castro Valley, CA), is also one of the foremost painters of horses in contemporary art. McLean spent most of his life in California, receiving a BFA in 1958 from the California College of Arts and Crafts and an MFA from Mills College, both in Oakland. He had his first solo exhibition in 1957 at the Lucien Labaudt Gallery, San Francisco, followed by solo shows at the Richmond Art Center, CA (1963) and Berkeley Gallery, San Francisco (1964,1966). He also exhibited regularly at OK Harris, New York, in the 1970s and 1980s. 

While McLean’s large-scale and detailed depictions of horses and their riders exhibit the slick finish and exaggerated accuracy typical of Photorealism, his rural subjects established McLean as a unique voice within the movement. Aligned with the Pop artists in their appropriation of popular media, McLean’s significant body of painting was based on colour Kodachromes featured in monthly magazines dedicated to horse breeding and showmanship, with the Kodachromes themselves based on black-and-white photographs. McLean transformed the banal yet sentimentalised poses found in these monthlies into statements on the distortions presented by photographs and the mass media. From the late 1970s, McLean sometimes used his own photographs to obtain greater control of the image. Despite the cool seriality of his work, McLean introduces a psychological element: the more accurate the rendering of the photo and the more exaggerated the realism, the more imaginative the paintings are.

MacLean’s work was featured in the most prominent early Photorealist exhibitions, including Twenty-Two Realists, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1970); Harald Szeemann’s documenta 5, Questioning Reality – Pictorial Worlds Today, Kassel; Photo-Realism, Serpentine Gallery, London (1973); New/Photo Realism, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT (1974); Aspects of the Figure, Cleveland Museum of Art, OH (1974). More recently, his work has been presented in Picturing America: Photorealism in the 1970s, Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin (2009); Photorealism: 50 Years of Hyperrealistic Painting (2013-2017) which started in Kunsthalle Tübingen, Germany, before touring to 10 locations including Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; HyperAmerica: Landscape - Image - Reality, Kunsthaus Graz, Austria (2015) and Chrome Dreams and Infinite Reflections: American Photorealism, Reynolda House Museum of American Art, NY (2022).
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