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Jock McFadyen, Painter

June 18, 2017
by the gentle author

In the sixth of my series of profiles of artists featured in EAST END VERNACULAR, Artists who painted London’s East End streets in the 20th century to be published by Spitalfields Life Books in October, I present the paintings of Jock McFadyen. Click here to learn how you can support the publication of EAST END VERNACULAR

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.

The works of man appear insubstantial, either dwarfed by the scale of the landscape or partly obscured by meteorological effects in Jock’s paintings. With plain titles such as “Dagenham,” “Looking West,” “Pink Flats,” and “Popular Enclosure,” he 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.

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 twenty 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.”

So there we left our conversation – 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

Aldgate East

Three Colts Lane

The New Globe

Turner’s Rd

Bingo Hall, Mare St

Bethnal Green Garden

Looking West


From Beckton Alp


Showcase Cinemas

Tate Moss

Pink Flats

Jock & Horseshoe Jake in front of Popular Enclosure


Roman Rd

Jock McFadyen

Paintings copyright © Jock McFadyen

Portraits copyright © Lucinda Douglas Menzies

Click here to preorder a copy of EAST END VERNACULAR for £25

14 Responses leave one →
  1. Jim McDermott permalink
    June 18, 2017

    My favourites – From Beckton Alp and Roman Road. I could stare into them all day.

  2. June 18, 2017

    Some of these paintings reveal a deep, imaginative response to the area. I particularly liked the foggy winter scene ‘Looking West’ and the rainy neon blur of ‘Roman Rd’.

  3. June 18, 2017

    This man is a master …
    the loneness, the starkness, and the subtle poetics of his man-made structures
    in juxtaposition to the seemingly infinite distance of his skies is so mysterious.

    His work is amazing.

  4. June 18, 2017

    I love the ethereal quality of Jock’s pictures, and how he captures light. Valerie

  5. June 18, 2017

    Jocks vision of the east end is inspirational
    As an architect I enjoy the clarity
    The beauty in the ordinary

  6. June 18, 2017

    This work is amazing. I will never see Aldgate East station in the same way again. Great that Lucinda Douglas Menzies is photographing these fabulous painters.

  7. June 18, 2017

    Friederike/GA: Jock is an immigrant to the East End the boy has made good he is now an Ender he’s an artist & biker. I am going to call him the straight line man !yes Jock has gone ‘straight’ so many lines on some of his pics, of which, I could live with. He shows lots of London pride that’s nice. The clever photo of him shows him as a wise owl. Poet John. PS – Keep scrambling all over those big…..big canvases Jock perhaps paint for a smart office block lots of potential here. You must have lots of petrol still in the tank. I have yet to see a painting in the Vernacular groupings of the iconic London Gherkin Tower, day or night in St Mary Axe EC3 as a main feature, lots of approaches with other surrounding structures & trees would have been nice to have been included.

  8. Libby permalink
    June 18, 2017


    ‘Looking West’ and ‘Three Colts Lane’ and ‘Roman Road’. All beautiful – but those, for me, especially.

  9. June 18, 2017

    I’m a huge admirer of Jock McFadyen’s paintings, some of them vast in scale. He has a rare ability to be simultaneously delicate and fine-lined, and robust and forceful. A few years ago I saw his magnificent show 30 floors up in the Clifford Chance tower at Canary Wharf: nicely subversive that scenes of urban dereliction were hung in a monument to high finance.

    I thoroughly recommend his monograph, ‘A Book About a Painter’, published by Lund Humphries in 2001. It includes portraits of passers-by, folk encountered on the street: wonderfully grotesque figures in bleak urban settings, reminiscent of the American painter Ben Shahn in the 1930s.

  10. June 18, 2017

    This new discovery is so surprising and unique in every way, it actually makes me light-headed.
    (in a great way!) Every image in this series is an incredible statement, but full-frontal “The New Globe” got my pulse racing. A stunning innovator — he imparts a sense of place, with a wallop.
    Many thanks.

  11. Jonathan Madden permalink
    June 18, 2017

    I love Jock’s work, honest and epic but they all celebrate the beauty of the ordinary. I like them all, particularly The New Globe, I believe was used on the cover of Ed Glinert’s excellent book East End Chronicles.

  12. Donald Parsnips permalink
    June 18, 2017

    Unique, succinct and evocative paintings , I have to comment that Jock is a master of his subject and that we will be looking at his pictures a long time hence .

  13. Georgina Briody permalink
    June 19, 2017

    So enjoyed these paintings, so real, brought back happy memories of my childhood especially Aldgate East station which, as a family, we used so much visiting relatives.

  14. Sparks permalink
    June 19, 2017

    I love this work – my favourite of all the artists to date!

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