EDINBURGH.- Bourne Fine Art
's Edinburgh Art Festival exhibition follows Jock McFadyen's career from graduation in 1977 to the present.
The title - 'The Ability to Cling....' - comes from a schematic image from 1977, executed two years after he graduated Chelsea School of Art. This and other work in the show from this period are humorous yet edgy caricatures. As an exhibition title of 1978 suggests - Paintings, Drawings and Titles, (Gallery 57, Edinburgh) - his art was as much to do with language as image. Language has remained central to his work. In later pictures it takes the form of graffiti - the flora and fauna of the urban jungle. McFadyen says it was 'a fast way to give patina to the street'. With the hand of what looks like a seasoned graffiti artist, the scrawls form a sort of picture within a picture - astonishingly free from his own style, his own hand even, so as not to cancel itself out. The subject of his student dissertation, 'Art, Language and Semiology', has remained central , as have his acute observations of people and life on the streets.
Shortly after graduating, McFadyen was awarded the second residency at the National Gallery, London (1980-81). The focus on social marginalisation in his pictures of the 1980s reveal the influence not only of his heroes, Walter Sickert and L.S. Lowry, but also that of the gruesome faces and contorted bodies of the German Expressionists. In pictures such as The Street and Street Dance there is brutality and defiance but also compassion and respect in the observational detail. A commission in 1990 from the Artistic Records Committee at the Imperial War Museum saw McFadyen shift from two dimensions to three. His commission to document the demise and aftermath of the removal of the Berlin wall - 'Fragments from Berlin' (Imperial War Museum, 1991) - resulted in a massive sculpture installation. A single figure from that show will be included in this retrospective.
The 1990s saw another shift in McFadyen's focus. In 1991-2 Kenneth McMillan approached McFadyen to design a theatre backdrop. As a solitary worker Jock has said that he liked to paint figures to keep him company: At the theatre he was surrounded. From this point on, however, he turned to depopulated landscapes. A sort of minimalism and reduction lends these vistas emotional distance and isolation. His faces from the 1980s morph into buildings, but the same scars of life and degradation are clear to see.
Jock has looked beyond the city to rural life too. In Orkney he searches out the scuttled remains of Inganess; in Uist, he discovers the rusting remains of a bus stranded in a peat bog, or a tangled mess of wire fences, keeping no-one in and no-one out all under big skies and in wild isolation. Different landscapes, same vision.