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If you’re lucky, the friends you make at 18 are lifetime friends. For two unassuming young art students who met in 1976 at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) on their first day, that was definitely the case. From the time Lex McFadyen, who had grown up in the Ayrshire village of Symington, and Madeleine Hand, a Motherwell town resident, introduced themselves, their friendship grew.
The two shared a studio, lived in the same apartment in Glasgow, got to know the families and spouses of each other, and helped, criticized, and encouraged each other in their respective careers.
Now, as the artists are planning to exhibit together at the Glasgow Gallery in downtown Glasgow for the first time, McFadyen remembers how their mentor, painter Barry Atherton, put him and Hand in the same studio corner of a building then owned by the GSA in Blythswood Square.
When they were attending art school, the two artists took separate directions. Before pursuing a career in fashion design, McFadyen graduated with a degree in sculpture, while Hand specialized in illustration and had a good career in that area.
McFadyen has carved out a niche as a painter after giving up his fashion company in 1998, splitting his time between a house on the Crinan Canal in Argyll and the medieval village of Noyers sur Serein in Burgundy, France.
McFadyen and his partner, Brendan Docherty, run a gallery named La Galerie Ecossaise in Noyers every summer (this year is an exception), exhibiting works by Scottish artists.
In June 2018, just days before a scheduled village show to mark his 60th birthday, when Docherty heard a loud hammering, McFadyen was painting in his studio in the village’s attic. He ran upstairs and with one hand found his wife banging on the studio floor. Support was summoned quickly, and McFadyen was soon airlifted to a specialist neurosurgical hospital in Dijon, where a near-fatal subarachnoid hemorrhage was diagnosed. He was operated on quickly and spent 3 and a half weeks in intensive care.
McFadyen realizes, two years later, that he’s fortunate to have made a complete recovery. “My memory is a little furry,” he laughs, “but bear with me!” Some weird things happened along the way, such as losing his sense of taste and forgetting how to blend oil paints to create his vivid still lives, landscapes and figurative paintings.
He began all over again, not letting that get him down, with an entirely new color palette – and one that sings of the joy of being alive. He and Docherty have also made plans – notwithstanding Brexit – to move their gallery in France to larger premises in Noyers in order to display more Scottish artists’ works. That will also give McFadyen the chance to use a new kiln he has purchased to play with ceramic works.
The influence of his two studios is reflected by McFadyen’s oil paintings and small charcoal drawings in this latest exhibition. In comparison to the more delicate shapes and subdued tones of Hand’s watercolors, his training as a sculptor is written narrowly. There is a bold sweep in all of McFadyen’s oil paintings, whether in lush still life or landscapes bathed in the Argyll and Burgundy mid-summer light.
In comparison, Hand’s paintings are influenced by her home, her garden and the rolling Perthshire countryside that surrounds her home in Dunkeld. The two artists’ personalities couldn’t be more opposite, and yet their works are perfectly nestled together.
Hand’s paintings are embedded, whether domestic or on the lane, in narrative scenes. In her scenes, a poetic tenderness remains. Many of these watercolors were done earlier this year, with titles such as “Walk Back” and “Through the Fields,” and exude an assured and knowledgeable hand at work.
Her preference is evident for photographs created against the febrile background of the Second World War. Heavily inspired by painters and illustrators who loved the land in the mid-twentieth century, she admits she owes much to Eric Ravilious and Evelyn Dunbar, who served during World War II as a war painter and concentrated on the work of the Women’s Land Army.
Delicate, delicate, intimate and stunning, with the exception of one named Kettle’s On, all the paintings by hand in this body of work include figures. Some paintings have a patchwork appearance,