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Jock McFadyen: ‘Lost Boat Party’

My experience of  Jock McFadyen: Lost Boat Party is one I will not quickly forget. I had the opportunity to walk through the gallery alone and the surprising pleasure to meet the artist himself. 

The exhibition successfully transports viewers to enthralling urban visions. When I finished the viewing, I was discombobulated; I had lost my sense of being in the corporeal gallery around me and instead I was a guest in McFadyen’s world of dystopian landscapes. The paintings are gritty and serene, foreboding and peaceful. The common theme found in his collection is the indifference of nature to human endeavors. There is a bizarre sense of tranquility to be found in the realization that humans are insignificant; our technological creations will inevitably dilapidate in the face of nature and the ravages of time. 

The first piece of the exhibition, The Mallaig Commision (2021), is an impressive artwork made of gun tufted wool on canvas. In collaboration with Dovecot studios, it is an engulfing, foreboding work. While examining the dark threads, I was in awe of the textile work and weaving details. The collaboration is an interesting interpretation of McFadyen’s painting, and it victoriously portrays a powerful vision of the Scottish town of Mallaig. In fact, McFadyen’s entire Mallaig series of paintings are a detached tribute to Scotland’s mighty nature. 

However, the centerpiece – the gem of the exhibition – is undoubtedly the Lost Boat Party (2020). At first, I was distracted by the lovely candy floss tones of the sunset. But, as my eyes focused on the floating amusement park in the middle of the sea, I felt my delight shift to melancholy. The detached, isolated relic of society showed me the diminutiveness of humanity. The closer I examined the massive painting, the more I felt humbled by the vastness of the gorgeous sea and sky. Later, when I shared my interpretation with Jock McFadyen himself, he laughed and said ‘good,’ seemingly pleased with my rudimentary observations. 

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Another painting that particularly fascinated me was Somewhere on Harris 4 (2018). The deserted bus sinking in the beautiful Scottish landscape perfectly encapsulates the mood of the entire McFadyen collection. Like many of his works, Somewhere on Harris 4 (2018) possesses a surprising grit. The painting, with its deceptively beautiful blue sky, holds a warning of the dangers of time passing, the inevitable moments of technology collapse, and the triumph of nature in the face of the deterioration of human inventions. 

After a long walk through the gallery with just me and my thoughts, McFadyen took me on a tour of his paintings and we shared some fascinating conversations. McFadyen was brutally honest, at one point saying he was ‘not interested in contemporary art’ and that he found some paintings (not his own) ‘embarrassing.’ Perhaps this should not have been unexpected, his blunt personality fits perfectly with the mood of his artwork. He is not one to follow trends or shy from the truth; his art is singularly biting and unique. 

When we were examining Uist (2011), a piece I found to be an alluring portrait of a Scottish island landscape, McFadyen murmured ‘it’s beautiful.’ I turned to agree, but he quickly corrected himself, clarifying ‘the place not the painting.’ Baffled, I tried to argue, attempting to defend the painting I found beautiful, but he seemed uninterested in my disputation. ‘Art is feeble,’ he said. 

Even more startled, I asked if he was okay if I wrote that somewhat radical statement down. When he confirmed I could record his assertion, I asked him to elaborate. McFadyen was happy to oblige, saying he believed the feebleness of art comes from the inability of art to replicate materiality. He was passionately confident that art does not compare to the beauty of the real. 

We also had an enlightening conversation about novels, as he was interested in my status as an English Literature student. He claimed to be envious of literature because in the many pages of a novel, there can be murder, sex, and other shocking subjects. A painting, being one stationary frame, does not always get this freedom. However, at this point he pointed to his painting The Beach (2017) and speculated if perhaps he played with more shocking, novel-like subjects in this one work. I agreed with his connection between the painting and the novel form. In The Beach (2017), McFadyen does not shy away from the crude or animalistic. Human figures fornicate, defecate, urinate, and act like the protagonists of the novel form that McFadyen is so envious of. It’s an illuminating portrayal of human’s more primal impulses that ruin the beauty of a beach scene. 

Art may be feeble, but McFadyen’s visions are not. I was easily swept into his world, where I felt privy to his unique perspectives. I would unabashedly recommend the exhibition and I can contend that the artist is as brilliant as his work. His work is beautiful, despite any of his assertions to the contrary, and presents a strong thematic emphasis on the might of nature, the insignificance of humanity, and the raw power of Scottish landscapes. To any potential gallery visitors, prepare to be humbled.

Image Lost Boat Party, Jock McFadyen, 2020, oil on canvas, 152 x 339cm, courtesy of Lucid Plane