Modern British & Irish Art

An Interview with Jock McFadyen

By Thomas Podd

A head of the Scottish Art Sale on 21 November, Sotheby's Thomas Podd caught up with artist Jock McFadyen to talk about his career, and his work Calton Hill IV, one of the highlights from the auction. Jock McFadyen was born in Paisley in 1950 and studied at Chelsea Art School. In 1981 he was appointed Artist in Residence at the National Gallery in London. In 1991, Jock was commissioned by the Artistic Records Committee of the Imperial War Museum to record events surrounding the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and in 1992, he designed sets and costumes for Kenneth MacMillan’s The Judas Tree, Royal Opera House in 1992. It was at this point that McFadyen began to paint the full-blown, cinematic and monumental landscapes for which he is now well known. He currently lives and works in London and Edinburgh and has held over 40 solo exhibitions and his work features in public collections as well as numerous private and corporate collections in Britain and abroad.                                                            


Thomas Podd: Sotheby’s is delighted to have Calton Hill IV from your Lunatic Series in our Scottish Art Sale this year. Tell me a little more about your choice to depict this Edinburgh landscape?

Jock McFadyen:  Well Calton Hill is very near my Edinburgh apartment and I walk up every day in all weathers when in Edinburgh. It is one of the great vantage points in the Bruegel/Lowry strand of the northern tradition. The sky is of course the main show and it is never without surprise. A salient fact for this painting is that the ancient Edinburgh Observatory with its huge telescope is at the top of the hill...

TP: Calton Hill IV is very painterly in the brushstrokes of the sky and the splattered paint around the circumference of the moon. You’ve previously noted 'I don’t want to be an artist. I want to be a painter'; would you say that your work seeks to reaffirm itself within the medium of painting as a way of placing yourself distinct to other strands of contemporary art?

JM: Painters are on a different road to artists who are not painters. Painting is the great survivor and has outlived every form of social organisation since cave dwelling and continues to thrive in the digital age...


TP: Tell us more about your time as artist in residence at the National Gallery in London in 1981. How did this influence your painting style and development as a young artist?

JM: Before I was at the National Gallery my work was witty and schematic and its subject was the folly of art. The National Gallery experience told me that painting was everything and stood before all other art forms.

TP: Ten years later you designed the set for Kenneth MacMillan's The Judas Tree opera. You have referred to this time as a ‘change’ in your artistic focus from figures to landscape. Tell us more about why this experience caused such a dramatic change in your painting and whether this still bares relevance to your work today.

JM: The Judas Tree, Sir Kenneth MacMillan's last ballet, enabled me to see my painting beyond the figure. My pictures up to that point were figure-centric but the struggle in the work would often be with the composition or structure within which the figure was placed. In The Judas Tree the responsibility for the figure was removed because of the existence of real figures (the dancers). After designing the sets and costumes I began to make pictures with no figures...

TP: You have a self-proclaimed interest in cinematography and panovision. What about this visual style attracts you and how is its influence realised in your painting?

JM: I always felt that my pictures had more in common with films and novels and music than with other painting. I particularly like road movies (which seems right for a contemporary landscape painter... ). But of course this connection is about subject and the real subject of painting is the paint...


TP: Although you were born in Scotland you have spent most of your working life in East London. Does the history of Scottish painting or Scottish landscape have any influence on your art?

JM: The first Scottish artist that would have influenced someone like me was Dudley D Watkins the creator of Desperate Dan and Beryl the Peril but now I love the landscapes of McTaggart, Eardley and Boyle Family and can I claim the great Whistler as a Scottish artist?

TP: What Scottish Art have you seen recently that you have particularly liked?

JM: I very much enjoyed Rachel McLean's film Spite Your Face at the Venice Biennale this year...


CLICK HERE to view the full Scottish Art Sale catalogue.

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