Steve McQueen has travelled a long hard road to being knighted in the New Year’s Honours List. The big-boned boy from class 3C2, where pupils were consigned to a life of manual labour destined to become plumbers and builders. Class 3C1 was reserved for the bright and normal pupils. “That inequality, I f**cking loathe it with a passion. It’s all bullshit, man. It really upsets me,” he told theGuardian in 2014 after the release of his seminal Oscar-winning film, 12 Years A Slave. That was not the first time the grown-up McQueen had recounted painful memories of growing up in west London and school life at Little Ealing school.
McQueen was born in Ealing in 1969 and is one of the most renowned artists and filmmakers of his generation, creating works to be shown in gallery spaces as well as four cinematic films: Hunger (2008), Shame (2010), the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave (2013) and Widows (2018). Solo exhibitions of this work have been held around the world, including a major retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Schaulager, Basel in 2012-13. He won the Turner Prize in 1999, represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2009, and was awarded an OBE in 2002 and a CBE in 2011.
The ability to draw rescued him from that scrapheap of underachievers, imbued his life with new meaning. Art school in Chelsea followed and he finally settled in Amsterdam with his own family. But he has recently been making waves again in the city of his birth, currently on show at Tate Britain with his most ambitious commission to date —Year 3—where he photographed schoolchildren across UK at the most pivotal stage of their academic life. Perhaps, it was also an opportunity to banish the ghosts of class 3C2 forever. Year 3 is a portrait of an entire age group of Londoners, capturing tens of thousands of schoolchildren from across the capital.