Craigie Aitchison, an idiosyncratic painter of simple, flat forms outlined against backgrounds of glowing colour, died yesterday at 83. In the Telegraph obituary, Aitchison is described as a gentle and whiskery man with a halo of snowy hair and a look of permanent astonishment. “He was engagingly other-worldly and blissfully ignorant of contemporary culture….Although the Tate owned four of his works, he had no time at all for what he called ‘the kind of shocking rubbish that appears in the Turner Prize’ and was happier at the Royal Academy, which held a major and well-attended retrospective of his works in 2003.
“Aitchison was a lonely figure in 20th-century art and it may, perhaps, have been his sympathy with the plight of the besieged visionary which stimulated his interest in the Crucifixion, a frequent theme of his work. Although he was not a regular churchgoer, he saw the subject as central to human experience. ‘The Crucifixion is the most horrific story I’ve ever heard,’ he said. ‘They were all ganging up against one person. As long as the world exists one should attempt to record that. It was so unfair….’
“After leaving the Slade, Aitchison returned to Scotland; but in 1963 he and his mother moved to London, buying a house in Kennington which he painted in a kaleidoscope of vibrant colours and filled with an eclectic clutter of books and knick-knacks picked up from local markets. He taught part-time at the Chelsea Art School from 1968 to 1984, and in 1988 was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Arts.
“Aitchison’s first one-man show took place in 1959 at the Beaux Arts Gallery in London, where he was given two further one-man shows in 1960 and 1964. As well as at the Royal Academy, a major retrospective of his work from 1953 was held at the Serpentine Gallery in 1981, with further retrospectives at Harewood House near Leeds (1994) and the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow (1996). Last year there was an exhibition of his prints at the Abbot Hall gallery at Kendal, in Cumbria.”