John McLean was born in Liverpool to Scottish parents. He studied at St Andrews University from 1957 to 1962 and at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London from 1963 to 1966. McLean taught at various art schools in London from 1966 and had his first solo exhibition in 1975. Colour is at the root of all McLean's paintings. He works on a large scale, painting spontaneously onto the canvas using fluid paints to make abstract and rhythmic compositions. McLean lived in New York in the late 1980s.