Paisley-born painter Jock McFadyen made his name in the 1980s with depictions of down-and-outs in the East End of London, but since the early 1990s he has trained his eye on the urban landscape itself – dilapidated industrial sites and motorway crossovers. From 5 February–10 April, ‘Jock McFadyen RA: Tourist without a Guide-book’ at the Royal Academy in London brings together 20 works that chart how London has changed from the 1990s to the present; it is one of a number of retrospectives, organised for the artist’s 70th birthday in 2020 (but delayed by the pandemic), which also include ‘Jock McFadyen Goes to The Lowry’, in Salford until 27 February.
Where is your studio?
I have a 2,000 sq ft industrial unit at London Fields in Hackney that I bought 22 years ago. The previous owners were drug dealers who smuggled cocaine in gearboxes and were caught by customs who realised that the gearboxes were too light. So they went to prison but as a result of their trade the security is pretty good: steel doors, bars on the windows…
What do you like most about the space?
It’s totally boring, neutral and characterless with good height so it’s perfect for painting large pictures as there are no distractions. And it is in a great neighbourhood.
What frustrates you about it?
It’s on two floors and I work upstairs. I’d much rather have it all on the ground floor so I could go in and out more often and work outside in the summer.
Do you work alone?
Yes. I can’t work if there’s anyone around. You have to be really bored to get into the zone for painting and it would be too exciting if there were real people in the room.
How messy is your studio?
Very messy indeed but it’s organised filth and it’s easy to clear away for events and studio visits.
What does it smell like?
Oil paint and turps.
What’s the weirdest object in there?
Well, I have 13 motorbikes and I keep six of them downstairs at my studio. I also have the hare from Catford dog track, which was a gift from a friend (don’t ask me why).
Which artistic tool could you least do without?
What’s the most well-thumbed book in your studio?
Any of the various motorcycle repair manuals. I’m a terrible mechanic and I thumb through these things in desperation, searching for clues.
Do you cook in the studio? (Or what’s your typical studio lunch?)
I have a kitchen downstairs, but London Fields is infested with coffee and foodie joints: Brat and The Bread Station are directly across the road. But my house is nearby and I usually go home for lunch. I need to break up the day or I feel like a penitent. I do pick up a flatbread from the Turkish cafe in Broadway Market if it’s too wet and miserable to ride home though.
What do you listen to while you’re working?
Radio 3, Radio 4 and music discs. Last year I was interviewed by Michael Portillo on Times Radio which I had never heard of, so sometimes I tune into that out of curiosity.
What do you usually wear while you’re working?
Do you ever sleep in your studio?
I used to have a bedroom downstairs but I dismantled it some years ago. So, yes, I have slept there – but I like the routine of travelling to work to punctuate the day.
Who’s the most interesting visitor you’ve had to your studio?
Loads of interesting people over the years, but I wish I had my old greyhound back. He came with me every day and slept in the corner.
Is anything (or anyone) banned?
Only rats and the police.
‘Jock McFadyen RA: Tourist without a Guide-book’ is at the Royal Academy, London, from 5 February–10 April. ‘Jock McFadyen Goes to the Lowry: A Retrospective’ is at The Lowry, Salford, until 27 February.
‘She changed how we encounter sculpture’ – remembering Phyllida Barlow (1944–2023)