Craigie Aitchison at Waddington Custot
Craigie Aitchison (1926-2009) is a contemporary painter whose works, in his preferred medium of oil on canvas, most often fall into the categories of portraiture or still life. Aitchison was born in Edinburgh and originally trained as a lawyer before entering the Slade School of Art in 1952. In a career spanning nearly six decades he has won several awards, including the Jerwood Prize for Painting in 2004, and in 1988 he was elected as a Royal Academician. For one month, Waddington Custot galleries will be presenting an exhibition of over 50 pieces of Aitchison’s work, from the collection of Sheelagh Cluney.
The still life is often seen as a traditional and conservative subject matter, therefore this exhibition is something of an eye-opener. Aitchison’s pieces are lively and demand attention: bold panels of dark blues and greens are frequently contrasted with bright, almost fluorescent, pinks, yellows and oranges.
The pieces are relatively simple in terms of composition. Almost like a stage set, a few carefully chosen elements are used to gesture towards a complete environment that can be pictured in the mind of the viewer. Holy Island, Isle of Arran (1993), for example, uses just a few visual motifs: the island itself, a pair of boats and a single unconnected utility pole with birds circling above.
Birds are a recurring subject in Aitchison’s work, alongside Bedlington terriers and religious figures, as seen in his series of crucifixion paintings and his Saint with Dog studies (1982 & 1985).
The show naturally explores the relationship between Aitchison and Cluney, both as artist and collector, and as friends. In Portrait of Sheelagh Cluney (1990) the collector is portrayed alongside a chirping bird, whilst in another piece Red Bird (1998) the words ”Sheelagh Xmas” are painted onto the canvas (and, interestingly, the bird appears to be orange).
The exhibition offers the chance to see a unique private collection. Aitchison’s paintings are fresh, visually exciting and conceptually interesting, making them a joy to behold.
Photos: Marika Parizzi, courtesy of Waddington Custot
Craigie Aitchison: A Private Collection is at Waddington Custot until 6th April 2013. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.