Jock McFadyen’s river

by thenewenglishlandscape

Dagenham (2006) by Jock McFadyen. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.

Creekmouth Open Space is, sadly,  one of the bleakest parks in London. Located between two vast breaker’s yards off Dagenham’s grim River Road, an endless procession of tipper trucks ferry London’s waste to a shanty-town of yards and depots for breaking up and carting off by barge or container. It was designed to provide a green space in an industrial quarter, but pedestrians are rare in these parts, and few go there.  For this reason, paradoxically, it is filled with birdlife, and, as importantly, provides a stunning panorama of the Thames where the River Roding meets the main river close to the monumental Barking Creek Flood Barrier. I was there earlier this week, seeing the sights, and, though depressed by the weather and the neglected park, felt uplifted by the panoramic river view which is now the park’s only redeeming feature.  Across the flat, grey river, between Barking Reach and Galleons Reach, lies Thamesmead, and beyond that the rich green skyline of Shooters Hill, Bostall Woods and Lesnes Abbey Woods. Very bosky.

Painter Jock McFadyen has made a unique art out of these depressed eastern backlands. His two views of the industrial riverside, Purfleet from Dracula’s Garden (2001) and Dagenham (2006) currently exhibited at the Estuary exhibition at Museum of London Docklands, steal the show, eerily capturing the mysterious quality of these great horizontal skylines in a way no other painter has managed, and to such memorable effect.  Jock has kindly given permission to reproduce the Dagenham painting here.  The paintings are, to my mind, the modern equivalent of John Constable’s great ‘eight-footers’: epic delineations of land and sky, full of narrative if you look at them long enough.  The sheer horizontality of Dagenham only further hints at what has gone forever, or what lies beyond the horizon. Everything seems placid and still, but there is tension and mystery too.  The old world has gone but nobody is sure what is coming next.