22 May - 14 June 2001
LONDON Front Room
Born in 1922, the son of Harold Craxton, the pianist, John Craxton's interest in art was evident, when as a schoolboy, he visited Paris and saw Picasso's Guernica, Calder's mobiles and Miró's The Reaper. In 1939 he attended drawing classes at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris and later studied at Westminster School of Art and Goldsmith's College. Between 1942 and 1944 he shared a studio with Lucian Freud.
John Craxton seems always to have possessed a free and open intelligence, which allowed him to be nourished by several schools of painting. Early drawings show a fluent and skilled draughtsman, immaculate observation and depth of feeling. Craxton's extraordinary drawing Hare on a Table typifies this period. During these formative years, Craxton went on frequent sketching trips to the Pembrokeshire countryside with Graham Sutherland. In the early 1940s, influenced by his friendship with Sutherland and his admiration for the English romantic, Samuel Palmer, Craxton reached out into poetic realms. He became one of the youngest artists associated with the neo-Romantic group, which included Michael Ayrton, John Minton, Keith Vaughan. Poet in a Landscape (1941) and Dreamer in a Landscape (1942) are two of his most significant works from this period.
Between 1946-7 Craxton travelled extensively in Europe. His work gradually took on a more formal structure, reflecting his interest in Picasso, Miro and Cubism. The special authority and eloquence of line, so characteristic of Craxton's work, became evident. By 1948 Craxton had found a homeland for his soul - Crete, the birthplace of El Greco and site of many masterpieces of Byzantine art and architecture. For Craxton the impact of Byzantine art, and especially the work of the mosaicists, was and continues to be enormous. It has reinforced the linear nature of his work, his distinctive use of "line to make volume expressive rather than to express volume" (Dialogue with the artist, John Craxton and Bryan Robertson, Whitechapel catalogue, 1967). It inspires him to continue in his exploration of the flatness of picture surface, pattern and formalisation as vehicles to convey emotional intensity. With the discovery of Crete, the subject matter of Craxton's art moved away from neo-Romanticism. His work takes inspiration from the everyday life of the village community, goats, wild cats, a sparse landscape, line portraits of villagers, sailors, girls, shepherds.
Today John Craxton divides his time between Crete and London. He is an artist of generous and sophisticated sensibility, deeply rooted in European culture. It is truly a pleasure to be able to host this exhibition, which will include several new drawings.
Biographical Note: First exhibited in 1942 (Swiss Cottage Café); and subsequently at the Leicester Galleries in 1944/51/54/56 and at the Christopher Hull Gallery from 1980 onwards. The Whitechapel mounted a retrospective in 1966. Works are held in all major collections: Tate Gallery, V & A, Arts Council, British Council, Contemporary Art Society, City Art Galleries of Manchester, Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Southampton, Harrogate, Oldham.