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b. 1969, United Kingdom

Steve McQueen Biography

Steve McQueen is a much acclaimed and influential British filmmaker, photographer, and video artist, born to Grenadian and Trinidadian immigrants. He lives in London and Amsterdam with his wife, cultural critic, film director, and producer Bianca Stigter, and their two children.

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Avant-garde Video Installation Maker

Well-known for his popular, politically hard-hitting, mainstream features, McQueen started out as an avant-garde video artist. He attended Chelsea College of Arts (1989–1990), Goldsmith College (1990–1993), and Tisch School of Arts, New York University (1993–1994).

Turner Prize

Subsequent to completing his studies, McQueen developed his work further and became highly respected in the visual arts for his videos, photographs and sculptures. In 1999, after a series of exhibitions, the filmmaker and artist won the Turner Prize. His winning show included the film work Drumroll (1998), made with three cameras inserted in an oil drum being rolled through the streets of Manhattan. He later represented Britain in the 2009 Venice Biennale with his Giardini installation, which looked at the secret outdoors life in the Venetian gardens when the art world is absent.

Steve McQueen's Influences

McQueen has a wide range of stylistic influences, ranging from Andy Warhol to Jean Vigo. However, social issues are a dominant thread in his practice, part of what he considers to be the social obligation of being a filmmaker. He began making full-length feature films in 2008 with Hunger, which is about the 1981 IRA hunger strike. The film stars Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands, the IRA prisoner who fasted to death while in British custody, and then nine other prisoners followed.


The film Shame (2011) is about two siblings: a brother and sister. One has a problem with sex addiction, around which every single moment is structured; the other is a neurotic and vulnerable aspiring singer who suddenly arrives at her brother's apartment needing emotional support.

12 Years a Slave (2013) brings McQueen's formidable storytelling abilities to the fore, based on the true story of Solomon Northup, who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery. Widely acclaimed whilst deeply disturbing, this grim, pioneering movie won the Golden Globe, Oscar, and BAFTA for Best Picture in 2014.

Widows (2018) is more standard Hollywood fare: a heist movie where four widows try to rob a politician in order to pay a mob boss for money their husbands stole before they were slain in a botched getaway.

Small Axe (2020) is a sequence of five very personal films (Mangrove; Lovers Rock; Red, White, and Blue; Alex Wheatle; Education) made for viewing online. The different parts are partially autobiographical, examining the experiences of West Indian migrants living in London.

Mangrove is about police persecution of Black customers in a Notting Hill restaurant that resulted in a 1971 court case where Black activists are charged with conspiracy to incite a riot; Lovers Rock is about young people and reggae music; Red, White, and Blue is about a Black policeman who tries to change the institution from within; Alex Wheatle presents a young writer caught up in the Brixton uprising of 1981; and Education looks at a young boy and his family facing racism in a 'special needs' school.

Steve McQueen's Short Films

Steve McQueen is also widely known for his extraordinary short films. These more experimental works include:

Bear (1993) features two naked Black men (one McQueen himself) aggressively circling each other like wrestlers, but with nuanced homoerotic flirtation spliced in.

Five Easy Pieces (1995) is an elegant hetero- and homoerotic film featuring a tightrope walker and a group of five men hula hooping. Silent and in gorgeous black-and-white, this seven-minute film features close-up body parts only of the former and distant aerial shots of the latter.

Just Above My Head (1996) alludes to James Baldwin, and shows McQueen walking around with a dominant white sky above his head, and occasionally moving off camera, only to be surrounded by a treed landscape at the end.

Western Deep (2002) shows gold miners in South Africa entering a mine over three kilometres deep. The air pressure is 920 times normal, the temperature possibly 70 degrees Celsius—with the dust and noise, a deadly working environment. The standard capitalist exploitation is McQueen's point.

John Hurrell | Ocula | 2021

Steve McQueen Represented By

Marian Goodman Gallery contemporary art gallery in New York, USA Marian Goodman Gallery London, New York, Paris

Steve McQueen In Ocula Magazine

Steve McQueen In Related Press

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