Brisbane Courier Mail - 2003 by Heidi Maier

Viewing Simon Mclean’s latest collection of charcoal drawings, one could be forgiven for thinking that one had fallen through the looking glass and into a whimsical, ironic sort of wonderland.

Billed as an introduction to Mcleans’s work the exhibiton groups together 31 recent charcoal works on paper, each masterful, highly individual and often unexpectedly thought-provoking.

Mclean’s experience as a commercial artist and illustrator is evident in each of the drawings. The same sense of whimsy and humour that infused so much of his corporate work, and his highly successful series of Albert and Friends picture books for children, is undeniably present in his latest works.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Mclean’s drawings is not their loveliness or admirable style, but his ability to take an everyday concept or turn-of-phrase and imbue it with an entirely original meaning.
The warm, and often arch, sense of humour that gives the pieces much of their presence is evident in almost every one of Mclean’s drawings, but is best exemplified by Pot-head. The piece shows a young man not smoking pot but sitting having a cup of tea. The top of his head is a teapot, with a Bushell’s teabag steeping away as he sips his morning cuppa.
Unfair Advantage is a beautiful illustration of a penguin wearing a pair of flippers and standing with a rather knowing and slightly sarcastic glint in his eye. On The Nose features a lifesaver, decked out in a 1950’s striped swimsuit, atop a giant beach ball and balancing a large fish on the tip of his nose.

Yet, while humour and whimsy are undoubtedly key features in much of Mclean’s work, his versatility is evident is several rather dark emotionally moving works. In The Dark was drawn in the days after the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, and is a shadowy, sidelong rendering of a man’s face. It is a rare piece, conveying a level of emotion that words seldom capture.
Similarly, in Palace the face of a poorly dressed man wears an almost unreadable expression. The text next to him reads, “his clothes were rags/his shoes were tatters /but his mind was a palace” and, sure enough, his mind is a palace: regal, resplendent and in no way reflective of his outward appearance.

Mclean’s work is a rarity, skilfully and beautifully combining charm, humour and canny observations with exemplary drawing skills. To fully appreciate the true originality of his work, it is necessary to wander around and view each of his unique pieces individually. Collectively, this is an impressive exhibition, but it is only in spending some time alone with each of the drawings that the complexity and surreal wit of their creator can be fully appreciated and applauded.