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Craigie Aitchison, ‘Crucifixion IX’

by Jillie Moss

If you look hard enough at the face of Christ in 'Crucifixion IX' (1963) by Craigie Aitchison (1926 - 2009) you may be able to see His features slowly appear - blink and they are gone. This enigmatic quality is indicative of the fascination that this small artwork holds for many Gallery visitors. The pale, ethereal figure of Christ hanging on the cross emerges from the flat, midnight blue background and has a gentle innocence which is so characteristic of Aitchison's work. The crown of thorns on His bowed head is more majestic than cruel, the star in its centre giving a jewel-like effect.

In an interview at the 2003 Edinburgh Festival, the colourful Scottish-born artist explained how his fascination with the crucifixion, which he has painted constantly for the past fifty years, began: “I was only part-time at the Slade. To go in every day I had to produce work I'd done since I'd been there. Well, I hadn't done much so I rushed back to my lodgings and found a picture of a Roualt crucifixion I liked and copied it. I saw this dreadful deputy professor and he said, ‘Oh, this is far too serious a subject for you,’ and I felt very hurt and I thought, Right, I'm going to do crucifixions of my own. It gets you going when people are like that”.

To us this may seem a superficial reason for repeatedly painting the image of Christ dying on the cross, but for Aitchison the story of Christ's death is one of the most horrific he has ever heard. The crucifixion is a familiar image to us all; we see it in churches and museums constantly. Rarely, however, do we see the portrayal of Man's inhumanity to Man depicted with such compassion and tenderness.