Andrew Lambirth

Artistic sustenance

Andrew Lambirth finds much to enjoy on his gallery trawl round London

By no means all commercial galleries run their Christmas exhibitions on into the New Year, but several that are doing so happen to be showing some of the most interesting work that has been around in months. However, if you are venturing out in search of artistic sustenance, do check gallery opening times to avoid disappointment. A glorious show of new work (until 14 January) at Timothy Taylor Gallery, 24 Dering Street, W1 (020 7409 3344), proclaims that Craigie Aitchison (born 1926) has lost none of his magic. The familiar subjects are once more in evidence, but given imaginative new treatment. A landscape is for the first time ever over-arched by a rainbow, reindeer crop the turf, and cypress trees feature in a big way. (Aitchison often makes them light-emerald against a darker sky, thus effectively reversing the traditional representation of a cypress as a dark writhing thing, as in Van Gogh’s paintings.) There are two rare pictures of buildings — ‘Chapel, near Montecastelli’ being particularly serene — and a dolphin makes its debut. The portmanteau painting ‘Crucifixion, bird table, Montecastelli’, in which a number of the artist’s favourite motifs are effectively brought together, is another recent development.

The works are strikingly hung against dark, blue-black walls (known, I’m reliably informed, as ‘Pinstripe’ in the Dulux range), and vary in size from the single hand-span to the monumental. The delicacy of mark is not lost in the larger paintings, even though a looser brushstroke may be discerned at work. (Look, for example, at the painting of the pink hull and chimney of the boat in ‘Goatfell, Isle of Arran’; broadly applied, but no less precise in effect.) Aitchison is always prepared to take risks with large expanses of saturated colour; what is remarkable is how he makes them sing.

Refreshed from the signal honour of a Royal Academy retrospective last year, and burnished by his current achievement, the star in Aitchison’s firmament is certainly riding high.

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