Jock McFadyen: The Punk Artist's "Awkward Squad" with L S Lowry

It’s always a bonus when there are two exhibitions to see in one gallery.

By Richard Morris | Last updated 27 July 2022

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McFadyen, mid-1980s // Courtesy Jock McFadyen

That is the case at The Lowry, where the hyperactive Venture Arts team have organised more vibrancy and colour from their learning disabled artists – plus a collaboration with St Matthews primary school – alongside a major Jock McFadyen retrospective, organised as part of that artist’s 70th birthday celebrations.

The McFadyen exhibition fittingly celebrates his affinity with the work of L S Lowry and is cleverly staged to ‘contrast and compare’ the work of both artists, with paintings and drawings by both, mixed and juxtaposed on the gallery walls.

There’s a lovely quote from McFadyen featured, paraphrased slightly:

‘Lowry was a full-time member of the awkward squad and was outside the unfolding story of English Art. I was a bit of an outsider myself.’

Of course not being constrained by what people expect of an ‘artist’ is a quality shared by the Venture Arts contributors, McFadyen and LS himself. Another quote, this time from Lowry: ‘I paint what I see. Or at least what I think I see.’

McFadyen’s work is displayed alongside that of Lowry and I was intrigued by some early Lowry drawings that I hadn’t seen before, which demonstrate his drawing skills before he started to paint what he ‘thought he saw.’

Lowry himself was taught at Manchester School of Art early in the last century by French impressionist Adolphe Valette (there’s a room at Manchester Art Gallery devoted to Valette) of whom Lowry said, “I cannot overestimate the effect on me of the coming into this drab city of Adolphe Valette.”

And so Vallette influenced Lowry, Lowry influenced McFadyen. McFadyen says that when he graduated from the Chelsea School of Art in the late 70s he painted the people he saw, “…with a kind of humour. Queueing up to pay their electricity bill, or drunk people singing in pubs.” Sound familiar?

A 1992 commission to design the set and costumes for a ballet at the Royal Opera House in London marked the switch from painting figures to epic and often disturbing landscapes. Although figures still often feature in those landscapes, eerily dwarfed by their surroundings. Small figures in big landscapes. Sound familiar?

McFadyen says that his influences are now American realist films from the 70s, contemporary novels and music, rather than painting. Some landscapes are so disturbing that Cormac McCarthy’s very dark novel ‘The Road’ comes to mind.


The exhibition is rich in content and covers a retrospective 45 years of McFadyen’s development and change. It runs at The Lowry until the end of February.

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To take in the intensity of the McFadyen exhibition and the sheer exuberance of the Venture Arts show try to get along before then – although the VA show, ‘You can’t stop us!’ runs until March 20th.

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I covered the VA coming out of lockdown show at Central Library back in September. That show, like this one at The Lowry, featured work completed during lockdown. Hence the exhibition name, chosen by the artists themselves.

I think I’ve previously used all the adjectives I can think of to describe the work of Venture Arts artists. So I think I’ll just quote Jock McFadyen in saying that he might be an outsider, as was L S Lowry, but the young people of Venture Arts are on the same creative pedestal.