Frank McFadden is not one of those people who swish slowly and silently around exhibitions. He is dashing between the pillars; up and down the stairs at Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow, like an Andrex puppy. Before we leave, he walks over to his favourite sculpture – ‘’well, my favourite after those two in Rome’’ – and is not frightened to stroke it.
‘’Look at her. Look at that fleshiness – those delicate bones,’’ he says in a thick Glaswegian accent. He pretends to flick the backside of Syrinx. ‘’You would think if you hit it, that it would wobble.’’
Anyone who knows McFadden would realise how good it is to see him like this.
During the nineties, his family watched him spiral downwards from being a promising graphic artist to an unemployable drug addict whose only hope of getting his life back together was through selling The Big Issue. During the ten years that McFadden was addicted to heroin, he considers himself to have been dead and describes how he has spent the past two years coming back to life. These days, he coyly calls himself an artist, because one of Britain’s most established artists tells him he should.
If McFadden makes any money from his art, you could call his story the ultimate rags-to-riches tale. It was in a coffee shop on Great Western Road in Glasgow that he first spoke to another Glasgow artist, Peter Howson. Laughing, McFadden describes how he would hang around cafes in the city’s West End hoping to meet a famous artist, any famous artist.
Howson was the first one he spotted. ‘’I knew his work because I used to stare at a poster he’d done advertising the Don Giovanni opera, with all these intertwining bodies, and I thought it was blindingly good,’’ says McFadden. ‘’But how I knew who he was, I really don’t know. I was nervous, but I made myself talk to him. I’d seen him in the cafe the day before and I’d missed my chance. I wasn’t going to do it again.’’
Howson arranged to meet McFadden so he could see his artwork. McFadden took everything. His school drawings, sketches he did while working as a sign writer, college competition entries and the suicidal pastel pieces from his ‘’dead’’ period, depicting heads on plates and grotesque monsters. Howson said it was the best work he had seen in years.