Born 1948 in Glasgow, Scotland
As a designer for the stage and an influential painter, John Macfarlane’s set and costume designs project an artistry and depth that also emerge from his drawings, prints and paintings. Born in Glasgow, Macfarlane studied at the Glasgow School of Art for a degree in Textile Design. He received a scholarship to travel and work in Italy upon graduation. It was here in 1973 that his first exhibition of drawings went on display at the Galleria Colonna in Milan. Simultaneously he launched his career as a stage designer by serving as Resident Designer for the Young Vic Theatre in London from 1972 to 1973. Since the successful start of his artistic career as a young man, Macfarlane has continued to produce compelling works seen in exhibitions and on the stage the world over.
In the 1980s, Macfarlane designed three ballets performed by The National Ballet of Canada: Jiří Kylián’s La Ronde, Kenneth MacMillan’s Forgotten Land and Glen Tetley’s Tagore. The set and costume sketches for these productions – and their translations onstage – exhibit many qualities found in his paintings: complex, layered brushstrokes that create a dramatic and intense effect. These ballets also encompass Macfarlane’s close partnerships with the late Glen Tetley and Jiří Kylián, two choreographers celebrated for their innovative and experimental approaches to classical ballet.
Forgotten Land in particular highlights the symbiosis of Macfarlane’s occupation as both painter and theatre designer as the ballet is inspired by a painting – “Dance on the Beach” – by Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch. The ballet’s choreography and designs expand upon the painting’s visual and thematic elements, exploring the concepts of the passage of time and lost memories. The National Ballet of Canada premiered Forgotten Land on February 10, 1988.
View the exhibit
Forgotten Land (1987)
La Ronde (1988)
Top image credit: The National Ballet of Canada tutus on display. Photo by Setareh Sarmadi.