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Jock McFadyen, Landscape Painter

November 26, 2012
by the gentle author

Aldgate East by Jock McFadyen

Hidden behind an old terrace facing London Fields is a back street with a scrapyard and a car repair garage, and a row of anonymous industrial units where painter Jock McFadyen has his studio. You enter through a narrow alley round the back to discover Jock in his lair, a scrawny Scotsman with freckles, tufts of ginger hair, and beady eyes that look right through you. Yet such is the modesty of his demeanour, he acted more like the caretaker than the owner – concentrating on the coffee and biscuits, and leaving me to gasp at his vast canvasses of landscapes on a scale uncommon in our age.

With plain titles such as “Dagenham,” “Looking West,” “Pink Flats,” and “Popular Enclosure,” Jock McFadyen evokes the terrain where East London unravels into Essex beneath apocalyptic northern skies, encompassed by an horizon that extends beyond your field of vision when you stand in front of these pictures. The works of man appear insubstantial, either dwarfed by the scale of the landscape or partly obscured by meteorological effects.

Originating from Paisley, Jock has lived and worked in the East End since 1978, with studios in Butler’s Wharf, Bow and the Truman Brewery before arriving in London Fields fifteen years ago. Although he has painted a whole series of epic landscapes of the East End, Jock remains ambivalent about its impact upon his work. “It’s difficult to say how much a place affects you because my real influences are other painters like Lowry and Sickert,” he admitted to me with a shrug, “You’re never just painting what’s in front of your nose, you’re aware of the history of painting.”

“When I was a student at Chelsea in the seventies, the previous generation were the pop artists and my work was quite stark and self-referential.” he confessed with a chuckle, breaking into a shy grin, “But when I became Artist in Residence at the National Gallery in 1981, I realised I couldn’t spend my life just making art about art, so I started painting what I saw in the street – What could be less fashionable?”

“Then in 1991, I got commissioned to design a set for the Royal Ballet. They thought, ‘It’s urban despair, let’s get Jock McFadyen!’” he continued, sipping his coffee with relish, “There were no figures in my design, because the dancers were the figures. And that’s when I realised I had been a landscape painter all along – I’d been painting people in places.”

Once we had reached this point and he had told the story of his self-liberation as an artist, Jock leaned back on his couch and cast his eyes in pleasurable appreciation up to a rusty bicycle frame hanging from the roof. He wanted to talk about his love for Lowry and Sickert. “Lowry was the most committed painter because he had nothing else in his life. I think he spent every day outdoors in his raincoat, knocking out paintings. You believe him, it’s authentic.” Jock assured me fondly. Yet it was Sickert who has provided the inspiration for the current exhibition entitled “After Walter” at Eleven Spitalfields in which, after two decades of landscapes, Jock returns to painting figures. “They’re the first full-blown figures I’ve done,” he declared with a significant nod, “They’re not actual people though, they’re dirty old man fantasies.”

So there we left our conversation, as I set off to the gallery in Princelet St to discover the substance of Jock’s libidinous imagination. But before I departed his studio, I paused to admire a huge canvas of magnificent old rotting warehouses on the River Lea. It occurred to me that Jock came from Glasgow – a decayed port city with a vibrant working class culture  - and felt at home in the East End, a location with a similar identity. I saw Jock looking at me and I realised he knew what I was thinking. “If you are a landscape painter you can only paint one place at a time,” he said, anticipating my words “So the question is ‘Are you an East End painter or are you just a landscape painter that happens to live here?’”

Jock McFadyen in London Fields

Looking West

Bud

From Beckton Alp

Goodfellas

Showcase Cinemas

Tate Moss

Pink Flats

Jock & Horseshoe Jake in front of Popular Enclosure

Dagenham

Roman Rd

Jock McFadyen

Black & white portraits copyright © Lucinda Douglas Menzies

Jock McFadyen’s exhibition AFTER WALTER runs at Eleven Spitalfields in Princelet St until 23rd December.

14 Responses leave one →
  1. Beach-Combing Magpie permalink
    November 26, 2012

    Some of the paintings remind me of Kurt Jackson’s work, although the content is very different…

  2. Libby Hall permalink
    November 26, 2012

    This was a lovely way to start the day – being reminded how much I love where I live.

    Such beautiful landscapes!

    How I’d love a room with empty white walls and just ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘Roman Rd’ hanging on those walls.

  3. November 26, 2012

    OMG I CANNOT WAIT TO GO AND SEE THIS EXHIBITION.
    I love these paintings.
    Terrific article.

  4. Chris F permalink
    November 26, 2012

    Dagenham & Roman Road for me… Smashing.

  5. Donald Carlton Burns permalink
    November 26, 2012

    This fellow is absolutely tops. be back in London from San GFrancisco ion three weeks and intend to see the exhibit than. Bravo!

  6. Prakash Sootarsing permalink
    November 27, 2012

    All are fantastic, “Looking West” edges in front of the rest for me. Apocalyptic skies indeed.
    Please let us know of Mr McFadyen’s future exhibitions.

  7. Greg Tingey permalink
    November 27, 2012

    I find the picture, with painter & greyhound of Walthamstow Stadium particularly poignant – about a mile-&-a-half from here …
    The local corrupt council have given in & “allowed” housing development on the site, against much local protest.

  8. joan permalink
    November 27, 2012

    There is a painting by Jock of Great Junction Street, Leith focussing on the Bingo Hall there. I have only to look at that painting to be transported back to four years of living in Leith walking those streets, always either pregnant or pushing a buggy or both. I can feel the exact feelings I felt at that time – difficult as I was a long way from friends, family and anything familiar. Love seeing his paintings here of Beckton – as my mum has lived there for 30 years.

  9. November 27, 2012

    genius Jock , pure genius , ,new show looks superb in its setting , best of luck with it and lucky people who get to see it !
    thanks for sharing Jocks work here Gentle.

  10. andrea permalink
    November 27, 2012

    Sipping his coffee with relish? That sounds horrible! :-)

  11. Juliet Wrightson permalink
    December 2, 2012

    Talking to an old friend who was at Chelsea about this he said “I wonder if he still likes white shoes!”

  12. December 17, 2012

    Wonderful paintings. Is this the same guy that did a painting of a tarty looking woman in a rough looking street with crisp packets flying around? I think it was from the 80s. My dad has an art transport company (C’art Art Transport based in Wolverhampton) and I remember he transported it somewhere but it was in his store for a bit. I might be getting confused though. Anyway, these landscapes are great. I must go to the exhibition.

  13. January 19, 2013

    Interesting article. I had the pleasure of seeing McFadyen’s vast East London paintings a couple of years ago in the rarefied atmosphere of the 30th floor of an office tower at Canary Wharf. And in October 2012 at the Fleming Collection in Mayfair he gave a fascinating talk about his retrospective show, explaining his shifts in style and oscillating fortunes through the decades. McFadyen has recently been elected to the Royal Academy. Some of his East End paintings, notably of a derelict Rex cinema in Stratford, are like Edward Hopper on crack.

  14. ricky houston permalink
    June 20, 2014

    Jock McFadyen’s paintings and prints give voice to the poorer people, a voice not heard much in world of professional art. He focusses on the areas where life is at the edge, figures in wastelands, those areas in cities, gap sites, wild grass and rubbish next to the industrial parts of town, the figures desperately fighting their battle to survive.The buildings are often places of entertainment, the old dance halls, cinemas, billiard halls. The buildings symbolise the people who went or go in them, in a painterly sense to me they are the people who went in them.
    There is a painting of an old concrete war time gun emplacement on Cramond Island, Edinburgh, the graffiti on it showing the marks left by the young guys and girls from the nearby Muirhouse housing scheme who went out there sowing their wild oats, letting the world know that they have been there by leaving their graffiti. There are no figures yet the building itself is like a figure of a whole strata of society full of the personalities screaming up from the ground.
    Like Sickert he paints the “grubby” reality of human life, stripped of designer clothed glamour and like Goya conjures up the world and all our hopes and desires restricted as they are by our particular circumstances.
    Jock McFadyen shows a warm empathy with the people he portrays. I haven’t seen the show After Walter, but I have seen every show he has had in Edinburgh going back decades, he always excites and it would be great if the show came to Edinburgh.
    Some famous person said something like, “many men live lives of quiet desperation” Jock McFadyen paints many of those lives and many of those who are not so quiet as well.

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