My Cultural Life: Jock McFadyen

An arbiter of taste tells us what they’re reading, watching and more

Photograph of Scottish artist Jock McFayden
Jock McFayden

Having attended Saturday morning classes at Glasgow School of Art as a teenager, Jock McFadyen moved to London aged just 15 to study at Chelsea College of Art. After gaining a BA and MA, he went on to become a tutor at Slade School of Fine Art. During the past 20 years, his paintings have focused on man-made landscapes, dilapidated industrial sites and abandoned streets.

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Poor Mother by Jock McFadyen

He says: ‘Painting is a kind of exorcism and, if it is done properly, the artists are the last to know what is buried in their pictures.’ McFadyen’s been a Royal Academician since 2012 and, this year, he is coordinating the gallery’s big ‘Summer Exhibition’ (10 June–12 August). ‘The theme is art that is a visual response to the world today. It doesn’t have to be descriptive or narrative. It might equally be abstract or conceptual, but it must be art,’ he remarks. royalacademy.org.uk

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Bloodshot Records

I’m currently listening to Deserted, the new album by the Mekons. My wife, Susie Honeyman, is in the band. The record that always cheers me up is E.M.I. by The Sex Pistols. It is just pure, raging Dada.

One of the books that has influenced me is The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary about an eccentric artist. Many years ago, a friend recommended it – I think she was trying to tell me something. Cary was a great writer and describes perfectly the relationship between painters and walls.

The Sex Pistols on a bench
The Sex Pistols

I love the films of Fassbinder, Herzog and Wenders, as well as John Huston (who directed The African Queen). I also like films from the Hollywood renaissance of the 1970s and 80s, before cinema turned its back on art.

The African Queen film poster
United Artists

The last exhibition I saw was The Royal Academy ‘Summer Exhibition’ – absolutely terrific. The last piece of live art I saw was the wonderful Marcia Farquhar at the Café Gallery in Bermondsey.


I’m fond of a quote by painter Walter Sickert: he’s reputed to have said that you couldn’t make a great painting if you weren’t capable of making a totally rubbish one.


The museums I enjoy the most are down at heel and don’t have much money. The grand museums, with all their multimedia possibilities, make me feel like a tourist.


The Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy
The Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy

I am addicted to motorbikes and own 13 at the moment. A few years ago, I found an old wreck on Ebay, which was the actual bike I passed my test on in the 1960s – a 250 Honda Sports. It had been in a shed for 45 years and still bears the scars that I inflicted on it as a youth. It’s all fixed up now and I only ride it on sunny days.

If money was no object, I would buy a drawing by Holbein (James Butler, 9th Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond,) and Lawrence of Arabia’s Brough Superior motorbike.

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’James Butler, 9th Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond‘ by Hobein

I’m now working towards exhibitions in 2020 at The Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh; The Lowry, Salford; the City Art Centre in Edinburgh and, of course, the Royal Academy, London. But mostly I’m looking forward to sitting in my garden in France.

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration July 2019

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