From tabloids to top guns, Jolyon Madden and his large canvases of the shooting world deliver the same attention-grabbing impact as his headlines for The Sun, as he explains to Janet Menzies
Jolyon Madden is not afraid to make a statement. From his front page splashes for The Sun to his larger than life canvases of the shooting world, he is a sporting artist that commands absolute attention.
For more sporting artists, Edgar Degas may be better known for his ballerinas but his sporting art is any racegoer’s favourite. And Leslie McGregor Scott-Clark and Rosemary Park are unique for sharing not just a studio but also farming and gundog-handling duties, allowing them to live the sporting life they paint.
When the “red tops” refer to their art director, they are not thinking Monet or Picasso. They want someone who’ll design a front-page splash that’ll sell in the millions. Zip me up before you go go was one of Jolyon Madden’s finest during his time at The Sun. Another award-winner was the ground-breaking The Sun … And the moon, when Jolyon Madden persuaded the newspaper to let a picture of the eclipse be worth a thousand words. Many a tabloid editor would consider all this “a bit ****ing arty”, but since Madden is actually an artist, what did they expect?
In addition to being an artist, Jolyon Madden is also a keen pheasant shot, who now runs his late father-in-law’s Essex shoot. “I love the countryside and I love being out there, participating. Since taking a step back from the newspaper I’ve had more time to concentrate on my painting.”
The result is some fresh, highly contemporary sporting art. Madden’s head-shot pheasant crumples graphically against an intense blue sky. “Only a shooting person would understand that painting,” says Madden. “You know, that split second when you have killed the bird clean with one shot and it is dead in the air; that image stays in your head. I’m not sure that my work is going to please everybody because my style is not what you would conventionally expect to see in sporting art. For example, my painting The Gun has quite a contemporary edge.”
It speaks to Madden’s first love, which is portraiture. It was his series The Editors – a group of massive scale, vibrant, quite aggressive portraits of famous newspaper editors – that first brought him attention. The series has now been archived by the National Portrait Gallery. “The series came about by chance, really. At the time we were going through the phone-hacking scandal and people were being labelled unfairly. I am really proud of being a journalist; individuals in my industry are so very talented and they are at the top of their profession for a reason. I think I wanted to say something about that. So I painted Kelvin McKenzie first, who was one of The Sun’s most famous editors. Then Rebekah Brooks followed, naturally, and I ended up doing a complete series of all the top editors and owners. I work on large canvases. It is an impasto style and I use a palette knife with a thick block of acrylic paint, which lends itself to scale. I am not afraid of a large canvas.”
This large, three-dimensional approach to his work probably stems from Madden’s early experiences on Fleet Street. “I can remember the final year of ‘hot metal’ before computer setting took over completely. It was all what we call ‘top box’ racks of solid lead print then. It was a pity really to lose it, because it meant the end of hand-drawn lettering and one-off type fonts, and the opportunity to express yourself.
“Even now, when you get the opportunity, the journalists work with the artists and the finished product is really satisfying. It changes the appearance of the front page. I have sat at the sharp end most of my career and it can be a bumpy ride. But when you are all round the lay-out table, with Kelvin and Rupert, creating front pages, it is a huge part of the daily life of the newspaper. The energy involved is massive and if you get it right, of course, you will see a spike in sales but the big thing is the creativity involved.”
It’s this spark that Jolyon Madden is now bringing to his sporting work. At present he is working on a portrait of Louise Baltesz, leading grouse shot and daughter of the late Sir Joseph Nickerson. “It’s really exciting,” comments Madden. “I think the top game-shots are really the rock stars of the shooting world. I’ve recently done a series of portraits of the members of the Rolling Stones and I like this idea of groups of paintings of people who are at the top of their game. Whether it’s newspaper editors, rock and rollers or the top guns of game-shooting, they are all up there. I’m aiming to capture that energy, which inspires what they do.”
See the work of Jolyon Madden at The Alexander Miles Gallery, 1 Cloisters Walk, St Katharine Docks, London E1W 1LD; www.thealexandermilesgallery.com