A Poetic Eye: A Life in Art from Cranborne Chase to Crete
30 January – 7 May 2016
Exploring the creative life of the nomadic artist, whose travels took him to Tunisia, Kenya, France and Greece.
An eclectic artist who refused to be pigeon-holed, John Craxton spent much of his life travelling and painting. He was born into a Bohemian, musical family in London and did not have much formal education, instead learning by drawing, reading and listening to adult conversation. He would often visit his aunt and uncle – who were both artists – at their home in Dorset where he became interested in the archaeological make up of the local area.
Craxton's teenage years were spent in Paris where he was introduced to the work of modern artists such as Picasso. He returned to England at the outbreak of the Second World War but was rejected from military service so instead took up a job in London.
At 19 he met Lucian Freud and the pair became inseparable, working and taking trips together during the difficult war years. It was around this time Craxton produced what he considered as his first real masterpiece, the start of a series of desolate images containing metamorphic trees and estuaries that captured the bleakness of the era.
The dark and haunting quality of these paintings meant he was linked – against his will – to the Neo-Romantic movement. Despite their success, he decided his work should take a new direction and set about trying to find a way to travel to Greece.
In 1946 Craxton, who was in Zurich at the time, made his escape thanks to the wife of the British Ambassador to Athens who smuggled him to Greece in a borrowed bomber. Inspired by the incredible beauty of the sundrenched shores that greeted him, he began to produce an optimistic series of work celebrating light, life and the landscape.
When the Colonels came to power, Craxton found himself exiled from Greece and travelled to Kenya, Tunisia, Morocco and Lanzarote, until he was able to return to his beloved nation for a part of each year from 1977. This exhibition follows Craxton from Cranbourne to Crete, revealing the full trajectory of his career.