Crucifixion scenes have a long and distinguished history in Western art, from the earliest Byzantine and Gothic works to late-Renaissance masterpieces by Michelangelo and El Greco.
Aitchison’s treatment of the Crucifixion is markedly unique, positioning him as one of the very few British artists of the 20th Century to paint convincing Christian paintings. Unashamedly resistant to being tied down to a school or genre, Aitchison first tackled the subject of the Crucifixion while he was studying at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1958. The result, a tiny, jewel-like Crucifixion, was the artist’s interpretation of a work by Georges Rouault and was painted on a long piece of Essex board. One of Craigie’s art tutors at the time was to comment, ‘It’s a very serious subject and much too big a subject for you to tackle.’ 1 These words were all the impetus Aitchison needed to pursue a subject matter that would occupy him for the rest of his career.
The Crucifixions form an important and intensely personal part of Aitchison’s work. Their precise location is the view of Holy Island from the slope on Arran, the site where his parents’ ashes were scattered.
In the 1980s, Aitchison developed the motif with the introduction of animals or birds, enhancing the symbolic nature of the paintings. The presence of animals replaces that of saints in medieval interpretations of the subject.
Crucifixion IV depicts a ram-like creature looking up at the cross. The ram rests silently in the moonlight, contemplating the brutality of the event and inviting our stark sorrow.
1 The artist in conversation with Andrew Lambirth, Craigie Aitchison, Timothy Taylor
Gallery exhibition catalogue, 1998, unpaginated