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Aitchison, Craigie

Craigie Aitchison 1926–2009 was born in Edinburgh and grew up in Dunbartonshire and on Arran. He studied law but abandoned this career and entered the Slade School of Art in London in 1952. During his second year at the Slade, he won the prize for the best still life and two years later he was awarded the British Council Italian Government Scholarship to Rome. Here Aitchison was inspired by the landscape and religious art but most profoundly affected by the light, which influenced him to begin producing his signature richly-coloured paintings. His paintings are renowned for their sparse but balanced composition and for the use of intense, pure and flatly-applied colour. 

His subject matter included still lifes, portraiture and landscape, though he was particularly associated with religious paintings and his depictions of the Crucifixion form a major part of his artistic output.

Aitchison’s first one man show was in 1959 at the Beaux Arts Gallery in London. He made a home for himself in London but in 1970 returned to Arran, for the first time since childhood holidays, to scatter his mother’s ashes on the same site as his father’s. The island’s pyramid-like peak was to be an important addition to his repertoire of shapes. Shortly after, he made his first encounter with the Bedlington Terrier at Crufts and was smitten. Both Arran and the Bedlingtons would appear in Aitchison’s crucifixions.

He exhibited overseas in Tokyo (1969), Delhi (1984) and Jerusalem (1992) and in the UK including a retrospective at the Serpentine (1981-2), a solo exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow (1996), the Museum of Modern Art, Powys (2001), and the Royal Academy, London (2003), of which he had become a full academician in 1988. He was awarded the Jerwood Prize in 1994 and in 1998 completed a commission for Liverpool Cathedral. He was made a CBE in 1999. In his last decade he was represented by both Timothy Taylor gallery and Waddington galleries, a mark of both his popularity and resistance to categorisation.

He died in 2009 in London. His works are in the collections of the National Galleries of Scotland, the Tate Gallery in London, and the National Museum Wales in Cardiff, among others.


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