CAE Reading and Use of English Part 7
You are going to read a review about an art exhibition. Six paragraphs have been removed from the article. Choose from the paragraphsA – Gthe one which fits each gap (41-46). There is one extra paragraph which you do not need to use.
An exhibition of works by the artist John Craxton
‘A World of Private Mystery: John Craxton RA’ at the Fitzwilliam Museum is a small show, but it does full justice to an artist whose career divides into two parts: the years before and during the Second World War, and the work he did afterwards, when for long periods he lived outside England.
It begins with his small-scale landscapes in pen and ink, pastel, gouache and watercolour. His subject is arcadia, but a distinctly English one in which poets and shepherds sleep and dream amid blasted landscapes under darkening skies. Suffused with longing and foreboding, these works reflect the reality of living in a rain-sodden country under constant threat of foreign invasion.
Most of the early work is monochrome. In many landscapes, writhing branches and gnarled tree trunks fill our field of vision. Beneath the surface of the self-consciously ‘poetic’ motifs, the country he shows in these pictures feels claustrophobic and joyless.
As this exhibition makes clear, by the age of 25 Craxton’s artistic identity had matured. With his style, subject matter and working method all fully formed, it is hard to imagine how he would have developed had he remained in England after the war.
On his first visit to Greece in 1946, Craxton was swept away by the light, colour, landscape, food and people. The dark cloud that hung over the work he did in England lifts and overnight his palette changes to clear blue, green and white.
Goats, fish, cats or a frieze of sailors dancing on the edge of the sea: in the Greek paintings beautiful creatures move naturally across bare rocks and blue waters. The compressed joy you find in these pictures doesn’t exist elsewhere in British post-war art. With a few interruptions, Craxton would spend the rest of his life in Crete.
But if there is little exploration or discovery in Craxton’s later work, you find instead a sense of fullness and completion, a feeling that in accepting his limitations, he remained true to himself. As he once said, it can work best in an atmosphere where life is considered more important than art; then I find it’s possible to feel a real person – real people, real elements, real windows – real sun above all. In a life of reality, my imagination really works. I feel like an emigre in London and squashed flat.’
It’s most noticeable in the works on canvas, especially in formal portraits like his 1946 ‘Girl with a Cock’ and it’s there too in the faceted geometric planes of Greek landscapes like his panoramic view of Hydra of 1960-61.
Craxton wasn’t an artist of the first rank but he was inimitable. This show is just the right scale and it comes with a beautifully illustrated book about his life and work.
It comes across this way even when he uses strong colour, as in one sunlit landscape in particular, where the yellow is harsh and the red murky. It’s as though he’s painting something he’d heard about but never actually seen: sunlight.
It was not only London that oppressed his spirit, I think, but the overwhelming power of the new art being made in Paris by Picasso, Miro and Leger. In assessing Craxton’s work, you have to accept his debt to these artists, and particularly Picasso.
And though he would paint large scale murals and design stage sets and tapestries, neither his subject matter nor his style changed in any fundamental way during that period. It may sound harsh, but when he decided to live there permanently, he elected to write himself out of the history of art.
Indeed, I well remember how I’d step into a large gallery, hung floor to ceiling with paintings, and out of the visual cacophony a single picture would leap off the wall. It was always by John Craxton.
My guess is he’d have responded blindly to market forces and critical pressure to do new things. What he needed was to develop at his own pace – even if at times that meant standing still. But to do that he had to leave the country.
They do so through tightly hatched lines and expressive distortion which ratchet up the emotional intensity, as in his illustrations for an anthology of poetry. In these, a single male figure waits and watches in a dark wood by moonlight.
Gone are his melancholy self-portraits in the guise of a shepherd or poet – and in their place we find real shepherds (or rather goat-herd) tending living animals. Now Craxton is painting a world outside himself, not one that existed largely in his imagination.