Fly with Me

Tom MacDonald (1914 - 1985)

Oil on canvas


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  • About the work
    Fly With Me by Tom MacDonald is an intriguing painting that marries together figurative and abstract forms. Striding across the composition from left to right are what appear to be two figures made up of tubular forms that faintly resemble arms and legs. The ‘heads’ of these strange, dynamic figures are composed of brown irregular forms, marked with white and red – the smaller figure to the right has a distinctive zig-zag pattern that could be a headdress or face paint. There is something clown-like about them, as if we are watching them perform slapstick in a circus ring. Interspersed between them are semi-figurative forms, some of which can be loosely interpreted as a black and white striped flag, a brown feathery cape and pieces of wood or metal with holes and bolts. Although painted in 1977, many of the compositional devices of Fly With Me, such as the tubular forms and the unusual juxtaposition of colours and shapes, call to mind the Cubist paintings of French painter, Fernand Léger (1881–1955). 

    The title of MacDonald’s painting complements the sense of movement and dynamism expressed by its semi-mechanistic, puppet-like characters. Each form is boldly delineated with strong outlines and modelled in striking contrasts of light and dark tones. The visual drama of the scene is perhaps influenced by MacDonald’s experience of working on theatrical productions. From the early 1940s, he worked as a stage designer, directing and creating sets for the Unity Theatre in Glasgow, and later went on to design sets for Scottish Opera.

  • About the artist
    Born in Glasgow, Tom MacDonald trained as a marine engineer, and was largely a self-taught artist – he attended just one session at the Glasgow School of Art. Living and working in the city, he became a close friend of J. D. Fergusson (1874–1961), one of the most prominent Scottish Colourist painters; and Josef Herman (1911–2000), the Polish émigré artist who settled in Glasgow in 1940. MacDonald’s artistic range was versatile – he produced purely abstract paintings as well as a series of Expressionist pictures that were inspired by Glaswegian working-class life. Other paintings by him often featured cowboys and clowns, two themes which allowed him to explore different ranges of human emotion. For many years, MacDonald also lectured on art at Glasgow University and participated in exhibitions at the Royal Scottish Academy, the Society of Scottish Artists and the Scottish Arts Council. He showed work at the inaugural exhibition of the Compass Gallery in Glasgow in 1969, after which he continued to hold solo shows there and at the Third Eye, another of that city’s galleries.
  • Explore
    Materials & Techniques
    canvas, oil, oil painting
  • Details
    Fly with Me
    Oil on canvas
    height: 61.00 cm, width: 87.50 cm
    Purchased from the Society of Scottish Artists, December 1977
    br: MACDONALD 77
    GAC number