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McQueen, Steve (1969- )

Director, Writer

Main image of McQueen, Steve (1969- )

Steve McQueen has distinguished himself as an artist and filmmaker on the strength of a small, spare but very discerning handful of work in a range of media. Sharply political - though rarely polemical - his intense vision is marked by a preoccupation with the human body and a fascination with early cinema.

He was born Steven Rodney McQueen on 9 October 1969 in London, where he grew up, studying at the Chelsea School of Art and Design, Goldsmiths College and, briefly, the Tisch School of the Arts in New York City.

McQueen's early short films were often silent, shot on 16mm in black and white and projected as art installations on exceptionally large screens. Bear (1993), presented at the Royal College of Art shortly after his graduation, brought him immediate attention. In it, two naked men, one of them McQueen, confront each other in a fiercely erotic and / or aggressive encounter.

Deadpan (1997) also featured McQueen in a variation on a famous stunt from Buster Keaton's silent comedy Steamboat Bill, Jr. (US, 1928), while Drumroll (1998) was made by attaching three cameras to an oil drum and rolling it down Fifth Avenue. These films helped McQueen win the Turner Prize in 1999.

In 2003 he spent six days in Iraq as an official UK war artist appointed by the Imperial War Museum. Four year later McQueen created Queen and Country, a cabinet of facsimile postage sheets, each bearing the portrait of a soldier killed in the campaign. The aim - as yet unrealised - was for them to be issued as official postage stamps.

McQueen's first feature, Hunger (2008), explored the slow physical deterioration and death of the Irish Republican Army prisoner Bobby Sands (a breakthrough role for Michael Fassbender) during his 1981 hunger strike in the Maze prison in Northern Ireland. It won the Camera d'Or for first-time directors at the Cannes Film Festival and many subsequent awards. The following year the artist was invited to represent Britain at the 2009 Venice Biennale, where he showed Giardini, a 30-minute film meditation on the festival gardens in winter.

In 2011 McQueen turned again to Fassbender for his second feature, Shame, about a high-flying New York professional with an emotionally crippling sex addiction. Though its nudity made it controversial in some quarters, it earned more acclaim for Fassbender, who was named Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival, and for Carey Mulligan, playing the character's equally damaged sister.

Questions of race are present in the background of most of McQueen's work, and in Twelve Years a Slave (2013) the director - who is black - addressed them directly. Set in the mid-19th century, it was based on the autobiography of Solomon Northup, a New Yorker kidnapped and enslaved before regaining his freedom, and stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, alongside Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch and Brad Pitt.

McQueen received an OBE in 2002 and a CBE in 2011.

Sheila Johnston

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