i-Pad study, local ramp park
It’s half term and I find myself at some of the local ramp parks as my six year old gets rid of some of that energy he’s full of on his stunt scooter and bike again. We go most weekends for a few hours whilst his sister naps in the afternoons, but as he was quick to tell me as I reminded that he had a week off school, ‘Brilliant! That means we can go to the ramps every day!’ At six, he is the only one on the planet.
Anyway, I did this i-pad study there the other day getting colder by the minute. I spend a lot of time there, often with a book, and always with a sketchbook, and have begun to amass quite a few drawings. I have been mulling over whether to develop something further about these cast concrete landscapes. I’m tempted to see if there are any ramp parks illuminated in the evenings to make studies from, as this would appeal to me more with my interest in the nocturnal landscape, now that the evenings are drawing in.
Painting in my WASPs studio space, Edinburgh 1998
It’s an idea I’ve been mulling over for years the more I think about it and remember: scenes of illuminated parks and football grounds etc. It first came to me when I was lecturing at Sunderland University in 1998. The Fine Art Painting office was five floors up and overlooked a local park. One evening as I was preparing to leave and catch the first of my trains back to my home in Edinburgh I noticed the park below eerily lit up with brilliant floodlights and a small crowd of young guys playing football. Obscuring the view however, was this wonderful screen of silhouetted trees and branches. The combination of black against the artificial light of the park seemed such a good image and really captured my imagination. I consequently made some drawings and over a few months made a rather dismal attempt at a large painting of it back in my Edinburgh studio. I remember it as being my first serious attempt at a landscape painting and trying to move my work somewhere new. It felt exciting with possibility.
Jock MacFadyen, 'Mare Street Snooker Hall', oil on canvas, 1996 (?)
Jock MacFadyen, 'Cambridge Heath', oil, 2004
Half way through making it, I ventured across the city to the Talbot Rice Art Gallery to see a very large exhibition of new Jock MacFadyen paintings. As a student I had enjoyed MacFadyen’s paintings of working class life similar to my own background, peopled by caricatured but always realistic characters set in the urban wastelands, but hadn’t seen any of his paintings for several years now. I was therefore shocked to see these new paintings where the figures had largely disappeared and the artist had foregrounded the buildings and the gritty, blasted urban landscapes. Several of them were also of floodlit parks with gangs of youths playing football at night just like the scene I was attempting to paint just a mile away in Gorgie! I felt gutted and unbelieving (this is all true by the way! I take this stuff pretty seriously!) I walked round the exhibition somewhat dazed, and then under grey Scottish skies staggered down The Mound and through the early evening headlights of Princes Street back to the studio, feeling that I had been totally beaten to it. I went back and enjoyed the show several times, and reluctantly tried to finish my own rather lame painting. I didn’t attempt anything serious with landscape again for several years, instead finding a route out of the corner I had found myself in by focusing instead on my portrait work.
Jock MacFadyen, 'Limehouse Basin', oil, 1998(?)
Now, having developed more of a ‘vocabulary’ in landscape painting of my own, sixteen years later, I feel more ready to return to this sort of subject again. If anything I’ve learned is that so often the development of certain ideas is a long, slow, and often unexpected process. You have to be patient. Also, knowing me I also know that I probably still won’t do anything with this idea, as it’s just one of several ongoing things I’m thinking of…
(There are a couple of nice Jock paintings on this blog of scenes at night, but I sadly could not find any examples on the internet of those floodlit football matches I was fed up that he’d done. Sorry.)
(It’s strange to observe the old photograph of the landscape painting that I found out and scanned for this blog and notice how much it looks like one of my present day nocturnal landscapes. I’ve still got it rolled up somewhere. When I have my major retrospective at the Tate it will feature in the first room you enter, ‘Early Beginnings’…! Or maybe not..)