We are close to releasing our very first feature length documentary about the brilliant painter John McLean. Made by Chris Morphet and Michael Proudfoot, “Which Way Up” will be screened in Soho for an invited audience on 31st May.
Michael Proudfoot and I started making this film in December 2014. It was something we had talked about for many years. So on the spur of the moment, we just began filming John, as he lives in The Barbican near Proudfoot HQ. At one stage of the first day’s filming John said “My attitude to my work is more like that of a farmer, taking his tractor round and round the field, getting it all done and then hoping the crop comes out well”.
All our work on this film has been for free. Michael and I firmly believe in John, and his still on going talent. So we felt we really had to make this film. Every bit of filming that we have done has felt enjoyable and most importantly positive, from the paintings themselves, which continually delight and surprise, to John himself and his unshakeable belief in what he does.
When we started, John’s medical diagnosis was Parkinsons, but this was then updated to Multiple Systems Atrophy. This has not been fun for John and his wife Jan. Yet John’s determination to continue and create more paintings has shone through heroically. However, our film has not really been to exploit this angle by going for the struggling painter in the face of adversity. We are much keener to show our love for what John does, plus the appreciation of colour that his playful paintings give us.
There are many colours and a variety of rough geometric shapes: crowns, crescents, triangles, whorls, suns, moons, etc. John magically explores the tension and relationships between these elements through his uncanny choice of colour.
With John’s paintings there is a constant change and development taking place, they never feel static. Having a few of John’s canvases in my home, I can vouch for their life enhancing presence. Every home should have a McLean on the wall as they somehow give a great sense of well being. I sometimes have an afternoon nap and wake to the sight of “Séance”, appearing in my vision on the wall opposite. It’s a continual sense of wonderment and trying to work out just how the overall balance and juxtapositions make the painting a successful whole.
We can never quite work out how something which starts as initially very un-promising ends up as such an unqualified success, through a process of John’s eye and a magical alchemy. We hope the film succeeds in shedding some light on this process. I have been particularly enthralled as a cameraman when seeing the paint and colours being applied to the canvas in close up, and observing how the paintings should be viewed and change when contemplated and observed at different distances.
Near the beginning John did say several times that only good could come out of us making the film. John and Jan have been gracious contributors and a joy to be around, even if Jan has tried to avoid being filmed where possible. She has been a fantastic support to John throughout and they are what can genuinely be called a lovely couple.
It’s all good.