Herbert McClintock was born in Perth, Western Australia, in 1906. He studied at the National Gallery of Victoria School from 1925 to 1927 and again in 1930. While a student he earned a living as a signwriter and advertising artist. During the depression of the 1930s he joined the Communist Party of Australia and did many political cartoons for the party press. He continued to contribute cartoons to trade union and communist papers throughout his life.
McClintock's early work could be described as "constructivist", but by the mid-1930s he was trying to work in a surrealist style, exhibiting under the pseudonym "Max Ebert". At the same time he took an interest (dictated by his political allegiance) in social realism and eventually chose to work only in this style and to exhibit under his own name.
During the Second World War McClintock was rejected for military service on medical grounds and was instead employed by the Allied Works Council in Sydney. He first worked in an iron foundry, then as a camouflage artist and in July 1943 was appointed an official war artist to cover the activities of the Civil Construction Corps.
This appointment particularly suited both McClintock's disposition and his talents as a social realist. He produced many works showing the construction of the giant graving dock at Sydney and of labourers in rural areas.
McClintock worked rapidly on the spot, making pen, brush and ink sketches and drawings of the action. Later he worked up more complete compositions in his studio in Sydney, often using thick gouache and layers of varnish add highlights and surface texture. He considered many of these paintings as studies for large-scale murals. They have a rhythmic repetition of colour and form that suggests the cooperation among the workers needed to complete their sometimes-daunting tasks.
Sections of buoyancy tanks and floating caissons, Sydney Graving Dock shows labourers dwarfed by the monumental engineering feats on which they are engaged. While the man-made seems to reduce the men to almost ant-like insignificance, McClintock has also made a statement about the importance of team labour and the grandeur of human enterprise.
McClintock died in 1985.