The painter of Bedlington terriers, landscapes and crucifixions was destined to be a lawyer, before a painting in the Tate changed his life. Martin Gayford visits Craigie Aitchison in his south London home and finds an artist who is a law to himself. Photographs by Derry Moore.
I don’t know north London at all,’ Craigie Aitchison explains, ‘I’ve only ever been there twice. I don’t feel right up there.’ In fact, Hampstead, Islington and Kentish Town are only a shortish journey away by tube from his quarters in Kennington. But Aitchison is a person with a strong, though highly individual, sense of location. He has been living in the same Victorian town house for 35 years now, so it has become part of his own world.
Stepping through the doorway of his home is like entering one of his paintings. It is decorated in the precise colours that zing out so often from his pictures – a certain pink, bluey, but also with a bit of yellow in it, and a complementary green-blue. Following him around constantly are three Bedlington terriers – because of their distinctive look, one is tempted to describe them as a flock. ‘They look like sheep if they are clipped right,’ Aitchison muses. The dogs have been part of his life, and art, for almost three decades (Fig. 1). ‘I’ve had this breed for 28 years and more. I saw a picture of them in a book at a dog show and went to see what they were like. Then I got the first one and got involved with Bedlingtons for all this time. Now I’ve got three because you keep the puppy when you shouldn’t. I suppose they turn up in my work because they are here.’