Steve McQueen

(b. 1969)

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(1969– )

British video artist, sculptor, and film-maker, born in London. He studied at Chelsea School of Art and Goldsmiths College, London. Subsequently he took a course in film at Tisich School of the Arts, New York University, but found it too oriented towards commercial production: ‘They wouldn't let you throw the camera up in the air,’ he complained. He made his reputation with black-and-white video works designed to be projected so that they occupied an entire wall of an enclosed room. Especially effective in its use of this format is Deadpan (1969) which repeats a famous (and dangerous) gag in Buster Keaton's silent comedy Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928), in which the actor stands unmoved as a wall falls on top of him and he emerges unscathed because of the exact placement of a window frame. McQueen shows the scene from a number of angles. Drumroll (1967) was shot in New York and uses three screens which project the images shot by three cameras attached to an oil drum which the artist trundled through the streets. The visual impact is striking: Andrew Gellatly refers to ‘magical instances when interiors of mirrored electrical goods are transformed into kaleidoscopes by the rolling cam’.

In 2003 McQueen was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum (see Official War Art) to make a work on the Iraq war. On his first visit he saw little, as his movements were so closely controlled. ‘It was like a magical mystery tour,’ he told an interviewer. Instead of documenting events of which he had no first-hand experience, he decided to make a work which commemorated the British service men and women who died in the conflict. With the collaboration of the families of those involved, he designed sheets of postage stamps. In spite of a considerable campaign, these have not been used by Royal Mail, but they have been put on display under the title Queen and Country. They are presented in oak cases with sliding doors of the kind usually employed to display rare stamp collections, so that the viewer becomes engaged physically with the process of seeing them. McQueen was awarded the Turner Prize in 1999. In 2008 his feature film Hunger was shown at the Cannes Film Festival.

Further Reading

A. Gallatly, ‘Steve McQueen’, Frieze (May 1999)M. Herbert, ‘Post War: Steve McQueens's Queen and Country’ Artforum International (May 2007)

Subjects: Art.

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