Doing Frankie a Favour

Frankie McGucken
Portrait of Frankie

Getting back to work after a long trip to Hong Kong and Australia, I wanted to start by doing something in a looser, less obsessively finished style. Before my departure I had met Frankie McGucken at the Recovery College, and after seeing some of the work I had been doing he asked me a favour: could I do a portrait of him that he could give to his girlfriend as a present? Without asking too many questions,  I sensed that this might be an important thing for him, so I agreed. I thought that a one-off outside the structure of the project would give me a good way of experimenting a little and trying something new. The portrait was completed in a single two-hour session, working alla prima in oils without any preparatory drawing.  The paint was applied thickly, and, while attempting to get a good likeness, I was more concerned with overall mood and impact than anything else. When I gave the portrait to Frankie a couple of days ago he was surprised and delighted. We had a long talk about his background, and a fascinating story emerged – here it is in Frankie’s own words:

“I was born in Belfast and came to London when I was fifteen – I’m forty-four now. I did general building work and lived in squats in Kilburn. Those were the good days, poll tax riots, the lot. After a while I ended up drinking heavily and not turning up for work. I got into a downward spiral of street drinking and heroin, this lasted for twenty years, one way and another. Eventually I ended up in intensive care after getting blind drunk and falling down some stairs at a hostel. Laying there in hospital, something just clicked in my head and I decided I didn’t want that kind of life any more. From that day on I’ve had no more drink or drugs, I’ve been clean for fourteen months now. I got a flat through ‘Look Ahead’, and I’m doing volunteer work for St. Mungo’s, going round the hostels and so on, talking to people who are trying to get out of the same mess I was in. I spend a lot of time thinking, asking myself what I want for the future, what can I achieve next? What would I like to be doing in a few years from now?”

2 thoughts on “Doing Frankie a Favour”

  1. Moving – your story, the favour, the portrait, and Frankie’s hope and purpose. A refreshing contrast to the “poverty porn” we seem to be invited to wallow in currently.

  2. Excellent, he’s a fantastic example to others and his character comes through in the portrait; I didn’t have him down as Irish.

    Why don’t you contact the publisher of the portrait book (assuming they’re still alive) and do an updated, 2015 version of the 1970 (?) equivalent, which looks and feels as if it’s 40+ years old, the excellence of the portraiture notwithstanding ?

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