Geoffrey Grigson, John Craxton: Paintings and Drawings, Horizon, 1948, cat no.16, illus b/w
Ian Collins, John Craxton, Lund Humphries, Surrey, 2011, cat no. 93, illus colour, p81
Painted in 1946, Girl with a Cock reveals the influences that fed into Craxton’s early work. He spent time with Sutherland when he visited Pembrokeshire in 1943, shared a studio with Freud, was friends with the ‘Two Roberts’ (Colquhoun and MacBryde), travelled to Paris where he saw the work of Picasso, Calder and MirÓ and visited Greece in 1946, which would later become his permanent home.
Craxton’s portraits tend not to be of named individuals; instead he portrays people to whom he gives generic titles, for example,’ shepherd’, ‘fisherman’, or ‘harvester’. Each has a specific role to undertake in the rural idyll that Craxton has depicted throughout his career. In the present work, the seated girl holds the cockerel’s legs firmly with both hands and her calm, placid expression contrasts with the bird’s fierce look. The thick black outline is typical of Craxton’s work and he has commented:
‘Line, or the definitive borderline, is not unlike speech itself in inflection and tone. For me a line is the clearest way I have of saying something in the most direct way. I am aware of the misunderstandings that can be created by language, especially in the way that puns can upset the meaning of a statement and create a wilful havoc of sense. But it is precisely this unconscious and dangerous anarchy that sets off images and double play in painting. I sometimes find this happening in my pictures and I like to encourage it’ (see Exhibition catalogue, John Craxton, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1967, p. 9).