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Jock McFadyen - Abandoned, Desolate, Distressed

Words:

Edd Norval
May 12, 2021

In the wake of Margaret Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister of the UK, many of Scotland and England’s working-class communities lay in ruin as the privatisation of heavy industry destroyed the livelihoods and social fabric of many communities. Jock McFadyen captures the fractured landscapes of 80s Britain in his portraits.

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Weighted with the sense of filth and fury associated with the breakthrough punk acts from the UK, McFadyen paints with a mixture of respect for his craft as well as an eye for highlighting the fragments of former industrial glory through the abandoned and damaged remnants of communities recovering from the rapid shift towards the 80s school of neoliberal greed. 


Shaped by our environment, any characters found in McFadyen’s pieces are reflective of the world around them, with psychological conditions manifesting in outwardly grotesque physical forms. These sociocultural conditions, we could surmise, are bound to impact the inhabitants. Thus, we have a Catch-22. The vicious-cycle of cause and effect, of nature and nurture, runs deep through the characters and landscapes portrayed by the artist.


Although born in Scotland, the precocious young McFadyen left for London’s Chelsea School of Art as he was turning 16 in a time when knowledge of the world beyond the immediate was scarce. Coached in morning classes at Glasgow School of Art as preparation, the artist was driven from home by the desire to develop and explore. Experiencing London in the late 60s was a formative experience for the young artist and was reflected later in his works. McFayden immersed himself in the city’s underbelly and wove these episodes into a visual narrative.

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From the skinhead scene to vagrant wanderers, McFadyen’s interests were firmly situated in the everyday experiences of struggle - those people whose faces tell the story of their life and whose movement and posture reflect their own sense of self. Developing a kind of duality - the built and the living - McFadyen’s paintings treated art like an auteur’s vision in film.


Semi-autobiographical, at least in the sense that his own experiences were being reflected in his observations of others, the Scot’s outlook was dark, his paintings gloomy and with little sense of hope or respite. The only thing that many of the buildings and characters had left was their foundations. Either emaciated by poverty or torn down by time, only skeletons remained in McFadyen’s world.


A faithful documenter of the world he sees, McFadyen doesn’t consider himself in any grander terms than that. Described by writer Iain Sinclair as “the laureate of stagnant canals, filling stations and night football pitches,” McFadyen’s kitchen sink realism belongs to the same school as director Ken Loach. A cracked mirror reflecting back and even more broken face.

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There isn’t necessarily a philosophical thread underpinning the artist’s work either. When he decided to paint, he’d paint what was around him. Given that his studio at the time was in an underdeveloped and run-down part of London, all McFadyen had to do was open his door.


Transient life and temporal places take on a spiritual reverence in his works. Gallery spaces often serve to help us forget what’s outside, but McFadyen makes sure that there is no forgetting. Broken buildings, broken people and broken dreams are a fact of life, one that this artist is at great pains to do justice to.

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