Jock McFadyen's East End studio is infused with the heady perfume of paint and turps. Painting, now seemingly the least fashionable of arts, is literally getting up my nose here. When I ask McFadyen if he minds practising the art form seemingly not at the forefront of chic curating, his defence is instantaneous and robust: "The great thing about painting is that it's not fashionable."
McFadyen, born in 1950 in Paisley, Scotland, studied painting at Chelsea and lives and works in London. He was a "cool" painter in the 1980s and a 1991 show at the Imperial War Museum confirmed his status. Like so many of his generation, his fame was eclipsed by the emergence of the YBA generation.
McFadyen's success in the 1980s enabled him to purchase part of an industrial building in the area near now-trendy London Fields, which he shares with two other artists and a noodle distributor. It is arranged over two floors: a workshop downstairs, where he keeps the motorcycles he collects and repairs, and a painting area upstairs.
McFadyen's tools for painting are minimal. No easels here. He explains that as he paints wet into wet, he often works on the floor or occasionally on trestle tables. His collection of brushes ranges from a floor brush, which he has extended with masking tape, to a number one sable standing in a simple pot. There are no carefully arranged tubes of paint – simply splodges of colour on a wooden palette.
I ask about a striking large work of a block of flats set along a canal. "That is the right block, but I moved it and set it along the canal. Paintings contain huge lies – why paint if you can't lie?" he asks. The painting is partially made with the broom lying nearby with long sweeps, which he comically demonstrates on the floor, pushing the nonexistent paint in a wide arc. I use the number one sable for detail, he says, twiddling it in the air.
On the floor in front are a group of some 80 witty, erotic paintings, something he does at the end of the day to wind down from the serious business of painting "the big things". These demonstrate the distinctive purply figures I associate most with his 1980s work. The figures disappeared, he explains, after he did the sets for The Judas Tree for the Royal Ballet in 1992, and found the dancers did the work for him.
Painting lesson almost over, I ask if he always wanted to be an artist, and his response illuminates the current divide in art. "I don't want to be an artist. I want to be a painter. The man in the street might think you make art out of dirt and string. It is embarrassing to be an artist."
Edinburgh Art Festival, 2 August – 2 September 2012, www.edinburghartfestival.com. Jock McFadyen: A Retrospective, 27 July - 1 September, Bourne Fine Art; Jock McFadyen: Made in Hackney, 17 JUly - 17 October, The Flemming Collection
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