The literature of “wild” swimming, which made Roger Deakin’s ‘Waterlog’ and Charles Sprawson’s ‘Haunts of the Black Masseur: the Swimmer as Hero’, cult books, is flourishing.
Whereas those accounts of swimming through rivers, moats, gravel pits are a paen to our island race’s affinity for water, McGregor’s painted tribute ‘The Modern Movement at the Lido’, encompasses the coastal habitations, beach groynes, caves, pools and sea tangle he has long been drawn to but also those enigmatic Art Deco structures born of the open air movement of the 1930s, when outdoor swimming became de rigueur. This mission, which has taken him from Cornwall to Morayshire, chimes with a resurgence of interest in these architectural jewels. Many, such as Saltdean Lido East Sussex, or Grange-over-Sands, the only Art Deco lido in the north of England, are now listed by English Heritage and restored.
McGregor lives with his young family in North Ayrshire and teaches Art & Design in Renfrewshire. When he graduated from Glasgow School of Art in 1998 it was in Printmaking (BA Hons) and his work maintains a graphic quality, never more present than in his lido paintings. He uses acrylic paints thinly applied so as to resemble watercolour rather than oil and he glazes his picture frames. His surfaces are worked and have unique characteristics not attainable with other media.
One senses an ongoing conversation with Ivon Hitchens , Peter Lanyon, Paul Nash. There is a transition towards greater abstraction in this latest body of work using emotive colours, the effects of space, moods and atmospheres. ‘The Modern Movement at the Lido’ returns us to childhood summers, when the sun always shone.
And as he travels from vertiginous cliffs, iron seas and white crested waves, inland, where water and sky merge within the confines of architectural forms, so the palette changes hue. Still, aquamarine water is mirrored in the blue, satiny sky. Parliament Hill Lido at Gospel Oak on the edges of Hampstead Heath is backed by red brick terraces, reflecting in the calm basin. Northern seascapes are gorse yellow, the colours of lichen, the red of sea anemones, the violet of mussel beds. Cornwall is the colours of harvest.
In all cases McGregor is a detached observer. These scenes are taken at a quiet time and open to interpretation. Has everyone gone home or has the place been abandoned? Be the water natural or choreographed by man its elemental nature is captured with the association and symbolism the adult eye brings.