Craigie Aitchison 1926-2009


With David Grob Gallery, London
With Piano Nobile, London
Private Collection, UK


2019, London, Piano Nobile, Craigie Aitchison and the Beaux Arts Generation, 14 Nov. 2019 - 29 Jan. 2020, cat. no. 24


Susan Campbell, Craigie Aitchison and the Beaux Arts Generation, 2019, Piano Nobile Publications, cat. no. 24, pp. 88-89 (col. illus.)
During the 1980s, continuing with his series of Crucifixion paintings, Aitchison also extended his repertoire to portraits. In his portraiture, Aitchison was ‘at pains to stress the individuality of the sitter and he would demonstrate each sitter’s unique character by intensely focusing on their appearance, hairstyle, shape of face and colourful clothing’. [1]

In 'Boy Seated and Crucifixion' the artist presents an unconventional approach to the Crucifixion, combining a contemporary portrait with the traditional religious motif. In front of the Crucifixion, the boy is stripped down to a naked, serene, and contemplative figure. His eyes are fixed on the crucifix as the colour bands in the foreground support his left hand.

‘Colours look much better against black skin,’ [2] Aitchison explains. Since the early sixties, he had favoured black models. The choice to paint members of London's black community, including the Windrush Generation was not without controversy, but Craigie unequivocally and repeatedly declared it to be guided only by aesthetic concerns. His first black model, Georgeous Macaulay, was Aitchison's favourite model "due to the exquisite colour of his skin which, Craigie found, could be set off against bright primaries" without either colour losing its resonance.[3]

In the present work we see the colours have been subtracted from the background and transposed to the body of the anonymous black model. 'Boy Seated and Crucifixion' is painted on a dazzlingly yellow ground, which, unlike in other examples that use bands of colour, here saturates the entire picture plane, appearing to glow through and mingle with boy's figure. It is plausible that the yellow implies the Crucifixion is taking place during the day, as opposed to Aitchison’s more conventional setting of the Crucifixion at night. Similarly, Craigie tended to favour the backdrop of the lone peak of Holy Island, just off the Isle of Arran, but unusually, here four peaks appear crested by the orange glow of the sun. A sense of deep age and mystery, with which Aitchison's work is so often suffused, is heightened here by the suggestion of the Egyptian pyramids at Giza.

There is no 'typical' painting by Craigie; his artistic vision is too diverse and individualistic to allow such categorisation. But the combination of exceptional traits exhibited in the present work places it as a unique example of the independence of his artistic vision at the height of his mature career.

1 Andrew Gibbon-Williams, Craigie – The Art of Craigie Aitchison, Canongate, Edinburgh,
1996, p.118
2 Introduction to exhibition catalogue, Craigie Aitchison Paintings 1953–1981, Arts Council
(touring), 1982
3 Gibbon-Williams, Craigie - The Art of Craigie Aitchison, p.68