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“Stop-Art” and Signs of the Times

by John K. Grande

Stop signs are so universal and ubiquitous as symbols! Like conceptual art, these public signs express so much in such a minimal way. The stop sign is an idiom – a symbol that represents so much more than its “face value”; it represents society’s structures and systems, and just as in ancient Egypt, those structures can be understood through its symbols. Meanwhile, the stop sign is so omnipresent its presence can be overlooked.


Maclean’s chose the Stop sign as a vehicle of expression by chance. In his early road-paintings from 1999, many of the scenes depicted highway signs. Maclean often altered the sign’s message, its essence… One of them reads, “Somewhere quick… Hell Bent”. You can see a flourish of directional arrows heading off in all directions. Early on, Maclean understood how constricted the rules of avant–gardism can be and he chose another road, another route – one that led him to, and past, the Stop sign.


When somebody actually gave Maclean a Stop sign in 2000, he was vaulted into working with signage as his raw material. The A­_R_T stop signs (2000-2001) – a work he is renowned for – recall Marcel Duchamp’s 50 cc of Paris Air (1919), or Duchamp’s signed snow shovel (In Advance of the Broken Arm, 1964) for his art is less about the function of an object, more about its reconfiguration, its redefinition, or repurposing as art. From being a functional object/sign to art, Maclean’s poetic utility is a gesture that moves art from the cultural into the social sphere of everyday life. All this, in an era, when the distance between the public audience and the artwork is increasing… We can see it in an octagonal sign, with its blue borders and blue rectangles, the letters A_R_T placed with the same precision as any road sign. The concept, ART itself, are challenged as outmoded processes, in need of change…


Hell Bent, 1999

Oil on masonite

18" x 24"

Maclean, Art, signs
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