Craigie Aitchison Paintings

One of Britain’s most popular and respected figurative artists, Craigie Aitchison was born in Edinburgh in 1926 and studied at the Slade School of Fine Art from 1952-54. Under the tutelage of Sir William Coldstream at the Slade, he adopted a technique using careful measuring and thinly applied paint to achieve subtle colour harmonies in his paintings. In 1954 he was one of ‘Six Young Contemporaries’ at Gimpel Fils Gallery and the following year was awarded a British Council Scholarship to study in Italy, where the landscape, quality of light and simplified depiction of events in the paintings of Fra Angelico and Piero della Francesca had a profound influence on his work. On returning to London, he developed a style of abbreviated forms and strong pastel colours that he has continued to use throughout his career.

His first one man show took place in 1959 at the Beaux Arts Gallery in London, where he was given two further one man shows in 1960 and 1964. Subsequent solo exhibitions were held in London and throughout the UK and a major retrospective of his work from 1953 to 1981 was held at the Serpentine Gallery in 1981, with further retrospectives taking place at Harewood House in Leeds (1994), the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow (1996) and The Royal Academy of Arts (’Craigie Aitchison: Out of the Ordinary’, 2003), where Aitchison was elected Royal Academician in 1988 (ARA 1978).

Over the years Aitchison has distilled the everyday into images of poetic economy and beauty across several genres, including portraiture, landscape and still life. The subjects of his portraits are drawn predominantly from London’s black community, in part due to the pleasure Aitchison takes in the way colour reflects against dark skin, and colour and composition have become the key elements of his portraiture. Model Standing Against Blue Wall (1962) is one of the many paintings from the 1960s and 1970s of the model Georgeous Macaulay where compositional requirements take priority over an accurate representation of the sitter, so that the figure standing in the distance is dominated and framed by the colourful abstract shapes he is set against.

His landscapes, inspired by his love of Scotland and Italy, are poetic and resonant, characterised by a harmonious balance of form and colour. His early landscapes, which are subdued in colour, make a strong contrast with the boldness and vibrancy of later views of the Isle of Arran and the lyricism of landscapes inspired by Montecastelli, his farmhouse near Siena. An important catalyst for this change in direction was Aitchison’s Italian Government scholarship of 2000, which resulted in an extended stay at Montecastelli. The powerful series of landscape paintings that emerged were executed using Aitchison’s signature thinness of paint and are movingly emotive of their garden landscape settings.

Aitchison also regularly explores religious themes in his work, including images of the Crucifixion, to which he adds motifs to tell stories of personal spiritual significance ‘which’, he has noted, ‘is what paintings at the beginning were intended to do’. Aitchison’s religious scenes are not of an ecclesiastical nature, but are imbued with a timeless, poetic and mysterious atmosphere reminiscent of 15th-century miniatures. In Crucifixion in a Landscape (1967–70), the figure of Christ is only slightly more substantial than a mirage, blurring the distinction between the real and the imaginary. Due to these depictions, he has received a number of important commissions for site specific work at Truro (four panels executed for the chapel of St Margaret) and Liverpool Cathedrals.

In the mid 1980s Aitchison diversified further, creating designs for ties and ceramics at the Royal Academy. Of the many awards he has received, Aitchison has recently won the Jerwood Foundation Award in 1994 and the 2000 Nordstern Art Prize. Craigie Aitchison was made a CBE in 1999 and currently lives and works in London.

Duration 09 July 2009 - 28 August 2009
Times 15 Carlos Place, London, W1K 2EX Monday to Friday 10am — 6pm Saturday 10am — 2pm
Cost free
Venue Timothy Taylor Gallery
Address 15 Carlos Place London W1K 2EX, ,
Contact +44 (0)20 7409 3344 / /

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