Born in Glasgow, McLean studied at Glasgow School of Art and, from 1963 to 1966, at St Martin's School of Art in London. Influenced by tutor Anthony Caro, McLean experimented with making formalist, floor-based sculpture in materials such as steel and fibreglass. However, by 1967 he was beginning to satirize such work, placing bits of junk in tasteful compositions on the pavement or in his sitting room. These works led to others, in which mud and ice were arranged to form abstract sculpture. These now survive only in photographs - as, indeed, they were meant to. In later years, McLean became interested in social issues, such as wealth and class. His oeuvre comprises sculpture, painting, printmaking, pottery and performance art.