British abstract painter, born in Liverpool to Scottish parents. His father, Talbert McLean (1906–92), was a painter, whose later work was influenced by *Abstract Expressionism; after the Second World War, during which he served in the armed forces, he returned to Scotland and taught at Arbroath High School until 1972. John studied at St Andrews University, 1957–62, then did postgraduate work in art history at the *Courtauld Institute of Art, London, 1963–6.
He was mainly self-taught as a painter. For most of his career he has lived in London, where he has taught at various art colleges, but he was artist-in-residence at Edinburgh University, 1984–5, and he lived in New York, 1987–9. His paintings typically feature broadly brushed shapes and rich colours (Strathspey, 1993, Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow). He writes that ‘My works have no hidden meanings. To understand, all you have to do is look. Everything only works in relation to everything else in the painting…Looking triggers imagination and association…I only work with the feelings I can elicit with drawing, colour and surface…Instinct and spontaneity are crucial. Thought goes into it too, in the same way it does in singing and dancing.’ He has had numerous one-man exhibitions in Britain and abroad and is regarded as one of the outstanding British abstract painters of his generation.
Text Source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)