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My Favourite Scottish Work of Art: Jock McFadyen

By Jock McFadyen, 11.02.2021
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Boyle Family (Mark Boyle, Joan Hills, Sebastian Boyle, Georgia Boyle) Study from the Broken Path Series with Border Edging 1986 © Boyle Family 2018. National Galleries Scotland.

I thought of the Boyles (hoping nobody else has!) as a surprise choice. Mark [Boyle] always insisted to me that the Earth works were 'paintings'. Despite the highly secret vigilance they erected around their methods I imagine that the casts would have been colourless resin and painted and burnished to a realistic backdrop for the fag ends and detritus which would be picked up by the resin. Certainly colour adjustments and improvements must have been made at the very least. Anyway, I consider them as paintings given the scale, format and paint.

I had a few heroes as a student at Chelsea School of Art in the 1970s and some were even Scottish. Alan Davie and his beard and E-type Jag, and Paolozzi too (Donald Duck meets Mondrian), but as well as Warhol, Pollock and Kitaj, Mark Boyle was also in my hit parade. The sixties was still happening in the early seventies and the fact that Mark Boyle and Joan Hills had toured America making light shows for Jimi Hendrix and Soft Machine would have been reason enough, but the Earth Studies compounded a reputation which preceded them.

Francis Bacon was an early fan and supporter of Mark and Joan Hills and their Earth Studies. Bacon, in his conversations with David Sylvester, talks of mainlining the central nervous system and bypassing the strategic visual assessing we do when looking at art, and I think this is what the Earth Studies share with Bacon. The shock treatment of Bacon defined the bloody carnality of the figure and Mark and Joan did something similar for landscape with the Earth Studies.

The double take when you come upon a strangely familiar abstraction which turns out to be a kerb with fag ends and double yellow lines as well as a footprint in the mud is something any image maker would die for. There needs to be sustenance, of course, and these pictures do sustain because they are essentially paintings. Mark always insisted to me that the Earth Studies were paintings and hyperrealism has long existed, but the Earth Studies are shot through with the added fidelity of fact because they include detritus of the moment as well as the wetness of resin and paint and because they have the scale and oblong framing of paintings they have the added resonance of ‘reality’ being experienced indoors at right angles.

And there are the darts and the endless project of Luke Rhinehart’s The Dice Man purposely taken to an absurd extreme and the fact that Boyle Family became an ensemble artist years before Gilbert and George or Langlands and Bell. Radical or what…

Artist Jock McFadyen with 'Carnoustie', at the exhibition Jock McFadyen Goes to the Pictures, 2019. Courtesy the CIty Art Centre.

Jock McFadyen RA (b. 1950)

McFadyen was born in Paisley and began training in art early, attending art classes at Glasgow School of Art on Saturday mornings shortly before he left school at fifteen and moved to England. Although he continued with his art when he could, it was not until he was twenty-two that he enrolled at Chelsea School of Art in London, graduating in 1977. A year later, his first solo show was held at the Acme Gallery in London and since then he has had over 60 solo exhibitions. In 1981 he became artist-in-residence at the National Gallery in London, only the second artist to be given such a role, going on to receive other prestigiuos national and internal commissions and awards.

McFadyen looks on his art as realism, but it is often not a 'comfortable' realism. He portrays life as it is, often depicting the seamier side of urban existence, making cities his study, first their inhabitants and later the cities themselves. His art has an affinity with the work of the German artists Gerge Grosz and Otto Dix, of Edward Burra and the American painter Edward Hopper. In British Art his heroes are Walter Sickert, L.S. Lowry and Michael Andrews. In much of McFadyen's work there is a large measure of caricature and not a little humour. However, it is a serious comment on the human condition. McFadyen was elected to The Royal Academy of Arts in 2012.

Jock McFadyen Goes to the Pictures, City Art Centre, Edinburgh, until 11th April; Jock McFadyen: Tourist Without A Guidebook, Royal Academy, London, 6 February - 11 April; Lost Boat Party, Dovecot Studios, 11 June - 25 September (dates tbc); Retrospective at the Lowry, dates TBA.

Boyle Family with collage of electron microscope photographs of hairs, British Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 1978.

Boyle Family 

Mark Boyle (1934-2005), Joan Hills (b.1931), Sebastian Boyle (b.1962) and Georgia Boyle (b.1963) make up the artistic family that began operating as one under the family name in the 1980s. Mark, born in Glasgow, and his partner Joan, Edinburgh-born, began collaborating the decade before, creating assemblages of junk and found objects, before initiating their project Journey to the Surface of the Earth in 1968 - 69. This involved them throwing darts at a world map whilst blindfolded, in order to pinpoint 1,000 areas of the earth's surface to duplicate. On travelling to a selected site, the Boyles would throw a T-square in the air to select a random area to replicate. They would then create highly accurate painted casts that operate somewhere between painting and sculpture, using resin and fibreglass (as well as real materials from the site) to replicate the randomly selected area of Earth.

Although they are perhaps best known for their Earth studies, Boyle Family have worked across a wide range of different media (including painting, photography, sculpture, film, projection, sound recordings and drawing). Past shows have included the British Pavilion at the XXXIX Venice Biennale in 1978, Beyond Image - Boyle Family (Hayward Gallery, London) in 1986 and Boyle Family (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh) - a major retrospective held in 2003. Their first solo show in New York in over four decades is soon to open.

Boyle Family, Nothing is more radical than the facts. 6 March - 24 April 2021, Luhring Augustine, Chelsea, New York. Their work will also be included in the Talbot Rice Gallery's upcoming exhibition the Normal.
Other artworks in the series 'My Favourite Scottish Work of Art' have been selected by Sam Ainsley (twice), Andrew O'HaganDenise MinaCaroline WalkerJohn ByrneSir James MacMillanJoyce W CairnsSir Tim RiceAlison WattIan RankinJoanna LumleyNeil MacGregorKirsty WarkMichael Portillo and James Naughtie.