Pallant House Gallery invites visitors on an artistic journey through the life and works of John Craxton (1922–2009) in a landmark exhibition: 'John Craxton: A Modern Odyssey'. With over 100 extraordinary pieces on display, including paintings, drawings, prints, ceramics, set designs and book-jacket designs, this exhibition paints a vivid portrait of an artist whose career spans shadowy landscapes of wartime Britain to sun-drenched vistas of his beloved Greece. The exhibition delves into the rich tapestry of his life, uncovering an artist who dared to defy conventions, a bohemian spirit, and an openly gay man. Creating profound and deeply personal works, John Craxton is an artist who celebrated the vibrant hues of life.
The journey begins in the 1940s, against the backdrop of a war-torn Britain. Craxton's works from this era are marked by the melancholy and confinement he felt at the time. Pieces like Hare on a Table offer a glimpse into his isolation.
As the war came to an end, Craxton's life transformed into a celebration of colour, echoing his newfound freedom. His travels opened up a world of possibilities. In 1946, he arrived in Greece and found an enduring love for the country. Here, his fascination with Greek culture, mythology, and the people themselves shines through in works like The Head of a Greek Sailor.
In 1960, Craxton made Crete his home, but his exploration of Greece and the rest of the Mediterranean continued. The captivating Three Dancers illustrates his immersion in Mediterranean culture, a testament to his fascination with the ordinary lives of everyday people. Unfortunately, the shadows of exile loomed in 1967 when a military dictatorship forced him to return to Britain.
The final part of the exhibition is a showcase of Craxton's compelling works created in Greece from the 1970s until his death in 2009. Original drawings for book covers, such as those made for Patrick Leigh Fermor, coexist with deeply personal pieces like Cat and Goldfish. These works depict his affinity for a convivial life in Greece – a world where friends, domesticity and art intermingle.
Made to coincide with 'John Craxton: A Modern Odyssey', contemporary artist Tacita Dean created a brand new 16mm colour diptych film in Crete as an elegy to Craxton and the places he knew and loved. The film's title, Crackers – the nickname given to Craxton by friends – encapsulates both the spirit of how the film was made and something of the artist himself.
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Dean first met Craxton when she was 16 on holiday with her family, staying opposite Craxton's house in Chania, Crete. This first encounter with a 'real artist' would prove life-changing for her. The film features scenes and sounds found in and around his house in Crete, including Craxton's favourite subjects – the White Mountains, dizzying gorges, city cats and intrepid goats.
Alongside John Piper's tapestry in Chichester Cathedral, the Gallery will also be showing Craxton's enormous Landscape with the Elements from 12th December 2023.
This journey through John Craxton's work wouldn't be complete without a glimpse into the world of his contemporaries. The exhibition will be accompanied by works chosen by the contemporary artist Jake Grewal, who will also display his own works alongside in the exhibition 'Jake Grewal: Some days I feel more alive'. The selection will include luminaries such as Lucian Freud, Robert MacBryde, Robert Colquhoun, John Minton, Paul Nash, John Piper, Graham Sutherland and Keith Vaughan.
'John Craxton: A Modern Odyssey' is more than an exhibition: it's a glimpse into the soul of an artist whose life was an artwork in itself. With each stroke of the brush and every colour on the canvas, Craxton's journey is a testament to the transformative power of art, a visual narrative of resilience, freedom and boundless creativity. Discover the vibrancy of his artistic world at Pallant House Gallery until May 2024.
Pallant House Gallery