MARY MACLEAN (1962-2018)

Exhibiting Artist

Mary Maclean, Infinite Space, Uncertain (Blackboard #3)
John Kinross Scholar in 1985


How did the experience affect Mary as an individual?
Through living in Italy Mary became very keen to improve her grasp of the Italian language, later studying it at night school. She immersed herself in the art and architecture while staying in Florence, also developing a love for the care Italians take with their food. Entrance tickets for galleries, concerts and theatrical performances accompany pithy written details of these visits in a surviving pocket-size sketchbook, together with surreptitiously and swiftly-executed drawings in pastel or ink that capture people on public transport, sitting on benches or in the post office.


What was the impact on Mary’s practice?
Mary’s approach to drawing was very much based on observation, working in situ; a methodology reinforced by the teaching of Glasgow School of Art. She made larger-scale drawings and paintings around Florence, of Ognissanti, Santa Maria Novella, the Boboli Gardens or, one of her favourite places, the Piazza Santissima Annunziata, where she drew the “two graceful fountains in bronze, with fantastic marine monsters, by Tacca, 1629”. She would respond to what was before her, creating both an essence and context of place in her work.


Mary Maclean, Florence, mixed media on paper
What would you say the long-term impact has been on yourself and your work?
Mary returned to Italy many times over the following thirty-something years, including a prolonged stay in 2000 when she was awarded a British School at Rome Abbey Fellowship. Her work became focused on architectural space, making reference to memory/use/event… palimpsests of possible/probable function.

Within the unpeopled architectural space that I photograph, the nature of the space is highlighted, encouraging a focus on the qualities adhering to its structure. The chosen spaces are anonymous, off to the side, unremarkable. But they act as powerful witnesses to a mode of existence and carry the traces of that existence.

A complex relation to the functions of time seems possible within the individual photograph. Instead of a succession of filmed fractions of a second as experienced in film, the photograph makes only an abrupt, single insertion into the world yet succeeds in filing that insertion with a mass of unstated relations
to time. The single frame seems to imply events prior to and
succeeding the moment of the image, working uncannily on an
inconclusiveness that we might experience in the perception of time.

These written reflections by Mary Maclean formed part of the exhibition Inspiration to Order held at the University Gallery, California State University, Stanislaus, in 2006 and were reproduced in the booklet Considering If… Then… Else… for her posthumous exhibition Mary Maclean Photographic Works 2000 – 2017 at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, Greenwich University, London, in 2019.


Written by Susan Warlow Mary Maclean’s long-time friend.