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At the Bus Stop: The Love Bite

1981 (painted)
Place of origin

Pencil, ballpoint pen and oil on paper entitled 'At the Bus Stop: The Love Bite'.

Object details

Object type
TitleAt the Bus Stop: The Love Bite (assigned by artist)
Materials and techniques
Pencil, ballpoint pen and oil on paper
Brief description
Drawing in oils entitled 'At the Bus Stop: The Love Bite' by Jock McFadyen. Scottish School, 1981.
Physical description
Pencil, ballpoint pen and oil on paper entitled 'At the Bus Stop: The Love Bite'.
  • Approx. height: 136cm
  • Approx. width: 100.5cm
Dimensions taken from departmental notes
Object history
Purchased in 1982 from Blond Fine Art Ltd, 33 Sackville Street, London

Historical significance: London, where he lives and works, has long been Jock McFadyen's principal subject. Rather than central, recognisable areas, he paints anonymous structures on the urban fringes: commercial buildings, flyovers, tube stations, warehouses and graffitied walls. The author Iain Sinclair has called McFadyen 'the laureate of stagnant canals, filling stations and night football pitches' ('Paint me a river', Guardian, 5/2/05). McFadyen describes himself as a realist, and his work follows the tradition of other painters of the city: William Hogarth, Walter Sickert, L.S. Lowry, the Camden Town Group, the London Group and the Euston Road School.

At the Bus Stop: the Love Bite (1981) was painted at a turning point in McFadyen's career. After graduating from Chelsea School of Art in 1977 he began to exhibit satirical paintings which utilised the visual vocabulary of cartoons, advertising and television. In 1980 to 1981 McFadyen was invited to be the second resident artist at the National Gallery (following Maggie Hambling). It was partly this experience, and partly the occurrence of the Falklands War in 1982, which brought about a change in his work. In McFadyen's own words: 'the sense of desolation mixed with jingoism on the street seemed a much bigger subject than the option of playing postmodernist games with the graphics of war'. At that point he began to base his work on observation of his immediate surroundings, and for the next ten years he concentrated on the figure, before later turning more exclusively to the city itself. Along with other works made during McFadyen's residency, At the Bus Stop: the Love Bite was exhibited at the National Gallery.

This painting draws on the visual conventions of pop-art. The viewer's perspective is the youth's neck, shoulder and chin, towards which everything in the composition leans. His physique is exaggerated in a cartoon-like way: his waist tapers to a sharp point, below which are tiny but pronounced buttocks and feet; his neck is a vast straight-sided column; his hair a blond helmet. With this physical solidity and high colouring, he looms towards the viewer. However, the painting transcends the limitations of pop art with psychological subtlety. The youth smiles to himself as he walks his dog; the girl sitting at the bus-stop swings her legs and also smiles slightly. Both figures appear to be absorbed by their thoughts and memories (made graphic, in the youth's case, by the mark on his neck), and do not notice or acknowledge each others' presence. The girl's psychological withdrawal is suggested by the way her hand is drawn up inside her sleeve. One of McFadyen's preoccupations is with urban manners; here he addresses the psychological interior focus which offers a refuge in a squalid urban environment.

On another level the painting is about signs and traces. The sign for the bus-stop is dominant; there is a suggestion of civic protection in the way it leans over the girl's head. the National Front and other graffiti above the youth's head are signs of anger and hatred. The cigarette ends, chewing gum, dog turd and crushed empty can on the ground are traces of recent presence, of urban neglect. The love bite itself is the central sign in the painting; it is a relic of amorous activity and perhaps even a symbol of redemption: a trace of love amidst signs of hate and squalor.

Technically the work is an interesting hybrid between painting and drawing . It is strongly linear, and the colours are used primarily to fill areas in rather than to create form. The central part of the painting, containing the sitting girl, remains black and white, while the youth and the surrounding areas are coloured.
Subjects depicted
Bibliographic references
  • David Cohen et al, Jock McFadyen: A Book about a Painter (London: Lund Humphries, 2001), pp. 19-20.
  • Hayward annual 1982 : British drawing, London : Arts Council of Great Britain, 1982 no. 198
Accession number

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Record createdMay 14, 2007
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