Craigie Aitchison – a life in colour || Cate Haste

Craigie Aitchison arrived at the Slade in 1952 along with others who had studied art for longer, or whose studies had been interrupted by wartime service. In spite of his relative youth, however, he was one of the Six Young Contemporaries who exhibited at the Gimpel Fils gallery in 1954 and, the following year, was awarded a British Council scholarship to study in Italy. There, he discovered the exuberance of Catholic churches and Quattrocento frescoes that were to influence his later work.

Aitchison is central to the art scene of the later twentieth century, exhibiting alongside figures such as Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach and Euan Uglow. His work is characterised by his use of colour and shape (hence the book’s subtitle) and his compositions are simple, frequently bare and with the main subject often almost overshadowed by a bold background that sets them almost as negative shapes within a strongly rectangular form. Edges, even the edges of the painting itself, become significant.

Cate Haste’s book is more than just a biography or an account of the work of her subject, being much more a complete account of a man of whom a great deal demands to be said. Drawing on original documents, family archives, letters and published interviews, she draws together the strands of Aitchison’s life, detailing his early development in Edinburgh, through his time at the Slade and in Italy to his burgeoning career in London and his place in and influence on the canon of the contemporary scene.

The book is also generously and thoughtfully illustrated, with an explanation and analysis of how Aitchison worked and how his style developed. It’s about as complete as you could want.

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