McFadyen is an artist who is sometimes associated with figurative painting of the 1980s. This has often irked McFadyen who, by the advent of that decade, had jettisoned the schematic narrative painting with which he made his name in the late 1970s.
In 1981 Jock McFadyen was appointed Artist in Residence at the National Gallery, London. During this period the painter resolved to make the observed world his subject rather than the witty conjectures with which he had graduated from Chelsea School of Art in 1977. The first pictures to emerge in the early eighties were populated by the waifs and strays of pre Canary Wharf London. McFadyen, like many others, was part of that diaspora of artists which had taken to the East End since the late sixties and he has always claimed that the figures in his work of that period were not inventions but sightings of individuals and events of the time.
In 1991 McFadyen was commissioned by the Artistic Records Committee of The Imperial War Museum to record events surrounding the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. In 1992 he was commissioned to design the set and costumes for Sir Kenneth MacMillan's last ballet The Judas Tree at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. It was at this point that the figure fell away from McFadyen's work. Full-blown urban landscape, sometimes on a monumental scale, emerged and continues to preoccupy the artist to this day.
Jock McFadyen claims Sickert as well as Whistler and L. S. Lowry among painterly influences from the past, while German and American realist film from the 1970s as well as the contemporary novel and music are influences which are more significant to the artist than those from contemporary painting. During the 1990s McFadyen found a fellow traveller in the writer Iain Sinclair whose Downriver and Lights Out for the Territory mirrored the artist's preoccupation with the eastern plains of the city and its estuary. McFadyen had previously worked with the novelists Howard Jacobson and Will Self on prints and booklets. In 2001 Iain Sinclair wrote Walking up Walls to accompany Jock McFadyen's solo exhibition at Agnews and Lund Humphries published a monograph on the artist, A book about a painter, written by David Cohen.
In 2005 McFadyen and his wife Susie Honeyman collaborated to create The Grey Gallery, a nomadic entity set up to work with artists, writers and musicians on a project by project basis with the aim of working across disciplines and to work outside of the existing dealer/ curator conventions. Projects have included the sculptor Richard Wilson, painter Bob and Roberta Smith, and musicians Little Sparta and Giles Perring. McFadyen currently lives and works in London, Edinburgh and France. He has had over 40 solo exhibitions and his work is held by 30 public collections as well as private and corporate collections in Britain and abroad.