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Special Report

Craigie Aitchison:
Out of the Ordinary

Craigie Aitchison
Daphne with Black Necklace, 1968 oil on canvas
Nancy Lazrus Istel
Photo Terry Schank

Craigie Aitchison
Japanese Tin Still-life, 1964 oil on canvas
25.4 x 20 cm Barney Cordell-Lavarack
Photo Roy Fox

Craigie Aitchison
Georgeous Macaulay in Uniform, 1969
oil on canvas, 46 x 40.5 cm, Private Collection
Photo Roy Fox

Craigie Aitchison
Winter Washing Line, Montecastelli, 2001 oil on canvas
142.2 x 112 x 5 cm
Courtesy of Timothy Taylor Gallery and Waddington Galleries


LONDON, ENGLAND.- The Royal Academy of Arts presents today “Craigie Aitchison: Out of the Ordinary,” on view through November 9, 2003. Craigie Aitchison is one of Britain’s most popular and respected figurative artists. Renowned for his fresh and radiantly colourful painting, his work encompasses portraiture, landscape, interpretations of the Crucifixion, and paintings of his beloved Bedlington terriers. This major retrospective, comprising 65 paintings, is drawn largely from public and private collections in the UK. The exhibition covers five decades of the artist’s career and includes a selection of his most recent works.

Born in Edinburgh in 1926, Craigie Aitchison initially followed in his father’s footsteps and enrolled at Edinburgh University to study history and law. He spent three years training in London, during which time his long held desire to become an artist intensified, inspired by private lessons and frequent visits to the National Gallery and the Tate. In 1952 he abandoned a career in law and was accepted by the Slade School of Art. Under the tutelage of Sir William Coldstream, he adopted a technique of careful measuring and the thin application of paint to create subtle colour harmonies. This artistic direction was consolidated during his travels in Italy. While his reputation has grown, his distinctive style remains faithful to his original vision.

Over the years Craigie Aitchison has specialised in the genres of portraiture, landscape and still-life, creating balanced and original compositions. He distils the everyday into images of poetic economy and beauty. The subjects of his portraits are drawn predominantly from London’s black community, exploring to great effect a feature of metropolitan life often overlooked by other artists. The deceptively simple portraits painted on a single colour background capture with precision the physical presence of his sitters, which have included the model Georgeous Macaulay and the retired boxer known as ‘the Chicago Kid’. His landscapes, inspired by his Scottish homeland and his life-long love of Italy, are poetic and resonant images characterised by a harmonious balance of form and colour. His early landscapes, subdued in colour, contrast with the bold and vibrant views of the Isle of Arran painted in the 1990s, and more recently, the lyrical landscapes inspired by Montecastelli, his farmhouse near Siena. The artist regularly explores religious themes in his work. His poignant images of the Crucifixion are among Aitchison’s favourite and most moving subjects.

In 1981 the Arts Council held a retrospective of his work at the Serpentine Gallery and in 1994 he was awarded the prestigious Jerwood Prize. His works hang in major public collections including the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Tate Collection. He has also received a number of important commissions for site-specific works (Truro and Liverpool Cathedrals). In the mid 1980s he began creating designs for neck-ties and ceramics at the Royal Academy. He was elected as a Royal Academician in 1988 and awarded a CBE in 1999.

The exhibition has been organised by the Royal Academy of Arts. In consultation with Craigie Aitchison, Norman Rosenthal, Exhibitions Secretary, and Cecilia Treves, Curator, have selected the exhibition.

Craigie Aitchison: Out of the Ordinary continues the series of exhibitions devoted to Royal Academicians, including most recently Joe Tilson, Terry Frost and John Hoyland.

To accompany the exhibition, RA Publications has produced a fully illustrated catalogue, with an introductory essay by Andrew Lambirth. The softback edition, £9.95 (ISBN 1-903973-29-5) is available from the RA Shop. A limited hardback edition, featuring a signed and numbered print by Craigie Aitchison, is also be available, priced £225 (ISBN 1-903973-36-8).

Evening Lecture: Friday 17 October 2003 - Craigie Aitchison: A painter pure but not so simple
As Aitchison himself has said: “I suppose what most irritates me is if someone says I’m a ‘naïve’ artist.” With the help of slides of paintings in the exhibition, the writer John McEwen will seek to demonstrate how subtle, profound and rigorous Aitchison’s apparently ‘simple’ art actually is. McEwen has written a number of catalogue introductions to Aitchison exhibitions over the last 25 years. Here, he will concentrate on the principal themes of Aitchison’s painting: crucifixions, landscapes, portraits, still lifes and, of course, his favourite Bedlington terriers; and emphasize to what a unique degree his work is inseparable from his life.
The Geological Society; Burlington House, Piccadilly; 6.30pm-7.30pm; £12/£6. To book, please call 020 7300 5839

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