Jock McFadyen RA: Tourist without a Guidebook

Olympia 2, Jock McFadyen RA, 2015, oil on wood, 35 x 61 cm © Jock McFadyen RA
Olympia 2, Jock McFadyen RA, 2015, oil on wood, 35 x 61 cm © Jock McFadyen RA

To mark the artist’s 70th birthday year, the Royal Academy of Arts will present Jock McFadyen RA: Tourist without a Guidebook. This timely exhibition, part of a series of four exhibitions around the UK, will explore McFadyen’s ongoing interest in the changing urban landscape, focusing on his pictures of East London, where he has lived and worked for the past 40 years.

Jock McFadyen RA: Tourist without a Guidebook follows the recently opened presentation at City Art Centre, Edinburgh, and will be followed by an exhibition at Edinburgh’s Dovecot Studios and The Scottish Gallery, and an exhibition at The Lowry in Manchester. These exhibitions chart a productive and successful five decades of artistic practice by McFadyen which includes major exhibitions at the Imperial War Museum and Camden Art Gallery, a residency and show at the National Gallery, sets and costumes for the Royal Opera House and inclusion in national collections including the Tate and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Goodfellas, Jock McFadyen RA, 2001, oil on canvas, 173 x 390 cm ©…Jock McFadyen RA
Goodfellas, Jock McFadyen RA, 2001, oil on canvas, 173 x 390 cm ©…Jock McFadyen RA

The exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts begins with a pivotal moment in the artist’s development, the decision to reduce the human figure and to make the location the subject of his work. This leads the viewer towards colour, texture and form, something more akin to abstraction. The display explores the development of this shift but also includes recent works some of which revisit the human figure. In 1992, the writer Tom Lubbock described Jock McFadyen’s approach to painting as like a sightseer without a guidebook, painting not an expected view or subject but an alternative, a view that catches his eye – a description that remains true to his work today.

McFadyen’s large vistas describe the city in a state of transformation as the landscape and the built environment morph into one another. Despite the absence of the figure, his paintings are full of human presence and ghosts of human activity. Carefully transcribed graffiti, litter, peeling posters and shop signs allude to the city’s inhabitants just out of frame. His depictions of buildings begin to take on human characteristics, broken windows, shuttered doors, painterly scars and a sense of faded grandeur hinting at their past lives and occupants.

Tate Moss, Jock McFadyen RA, 2010, oil on canvas, 200 x 300 cm, …Jock McFadyen RA
Tate Moss, Jock McFadyen RA, 2010, oil on canvas, 200 x 300 cm, …Jock McFadyen RA

Jock McFadyen comments, The guidebook quote comes from when Tom wrote the catalogue for my 1992 exhibition Fragments From Berlin at the Imperial War Museum. It struck a chord as he had perfectly described my attitude to painting places and since that time I have carried the words close to my heart as I wander about the place not looking for anything.

Currently on display until 7th March 2021, the City Art Centre in Edinburgh presents works by McFadyen paired alongside artworks specifically selected by the artist from the City Art Centre’s rich and varied art collection. Displaying McFadyen’s urban and rural landscapes as well as some of his figurative paintings next to works from the Collection’s historic and contemporary Scottish art creates a new dialogue and series of connections that encourages viewers to take a closer look.

McFadyen was born in Paisley in 1950 and as a teenager went to Saturday morning classes at Glasgow School of Art. Aged 15, he moved to England and attended Chelsea School of Art in London from 1973 to 1977. His work from the 1980s is mostly associated with figurative painting, often featuring marginalised members of society in Chicago, New York, Berlin, Belfast, London and Edinburgh. However, since the 1990s his paintings have largely focused on man-made landscapes such as dilapidated industrial sites, abandoned buildings and deserted streets, as well as pure landscape stripped bare. He has had over 60 solo exhibitions since 1978 and his work is held by over 30 public collections including the Tate, V&A and the British Museum as well as private and corporate collections in Britain and abroad. McFadyen currently lives and works in London and Edinburgh. He and was elected a Royal Academician in 2012.

Jock McFadyen RA: Tourist without a Guidebook is supported by Forsters.

Flyover, Jock McFadyen RA, 2020, oil on canvas, 162 x 232 cm © Jock McFadyen RA
Flyover, Jock McFadyen RA, 2020, oil on canvas, 162 x 232 cm © Jock McFadyen RA

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