27 July 2009


Craigie Aitchison was born in 1926 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He original planned to follow his father's footsteps in a law career, attending school at Edinburgh University. However, in 1952 he switched into art and completed school at the Slade School of Art. Aitchison became part of a group of artists, known as The School of London, who focused their work primarily on figurative painting, maintaining elements of modern technique but distancing from "the radical tendencies of contemporary art," as the Artbook puts it. Aitchison's painted incredibly simplified figures, and devoted a large portion of his subject matter to the Crucifixion of Christ. 

"Portrait of Naaotwa Swayne," chosen by the Artbook, is a 20" x 24" portrait of a young woman completed in 1988. Aitchison chose to use mostly African and West Indian sitters because he preferred the warm flesh tones, which he has painted very well in this piece. The simplified figure seems to glow against the green/black background, and though incorporating ideas of abstraction, Aitchison still retains figurative aspects and a strong sense of personality in the piece. The most fascinating part of this piece for me is the style applied to the oil paint- it appears almost chalky, like pastel or conte. Certainly he must have only applied thin coats of paint, as the luminosity from the canvas shines through in the skin tone. 

My next choice is one of his Crucifixions. "Crucifixion 9," (1987, above) is a truly original depiction of the archetype and can be seen at the Tate Museum. Aitchison chose to shift the focus from subject to style; instead of drawing meaning from the action of the painting, the viewer looks to shape and color to set the mood. Also- in simplification of his subject, Aitchison chose not to include Christ's arms, for which his reasoning was "everybody knows who he is. He doesn't need arms." This goes further to show the arbitrariness of the actual figure of Christ; usually the most important aspect of a biblical painting, Aitchison's Christ doesn't even need arms in his painting to achieve its purpose. Also, the dog is a really interesting choice in this. No followers of Christ are displayed, neither are his crucifiers, yet there is a dog, possibly symbolizing compassion and loyalty. He used this somewhat iconic image of the dog in a lot of his other pieces, as well.

"Model Standing on a Blue Wall," shown above, is an earlier painting of Aitchison's (1962) that also hangs at the Tate. I really liked this painting's composition- very simple, yet very effective in drawing the viewer in and giving a true to form impression of the subject. The flatness and depth of this painting gives evidence of his modern artistic training, and the overall depiction and composition are reminiscent of some of Picasso's portraits. I really love the large, simplistic blocks of color in the background, and the delicate treatment of the subject itself. Beautiful painting. 

Aitchison now spends most of his time living in a London estate that he's owned for over 35 years. His works hang at the Tate, though he has had some retrospective traveling exhibits recently. Some of his newer pieces are shown below.

Nandi Bull in front of Temple I, 2000

Crucifixion with Mountain, Montecastelli, 2002

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