Ray Crooke: Island Dreams and Timeless Landscapes

Exhibition dates: 20 March ~ 13 April 2013

This Ray Crooke exhibition includes works from the 1950s to more recent islander oil paintings.

Ray Crooke is one of Australiaís most distinguished painters, his career has been an enduring and distinguished one, spanning 7 decades. Over this time he has developed a notable reputation among collectors both locally and internationally. It is of note to mention that the majority of this body of works are owned outright by Savill Galleries. The gallery has been a long-time supporter of Ray Crooke, and has independently held a number of solo exhibitions of his work over the past 20 years.

This diverse collection includes early Australian landscapes such as 'Orchard Boronia', painted circa 1959 and 'Ferntree Gully' (1958) along with early works from his time spent in the Pacific islands such as 'Thursday Island', also from 1958.

A large body of more recent works primarily depicting the islands of Fiji and its peoples, make up the bulk of this exhibition. Ray Crooke, now 90 years of age, has made many trips to the tropics since first visiting and falling in love with the islands of the Pacific during his War service years.

Ray Crooke was born in Melbourne in 1922. He has spent most of his adult life living in Northern Queensland and has worked and travelled extensively throughout the tropics. Ray has been painting since the 1950s and his beguiling images of the tropical north of Australia and the Pacific islands have enticed and enchanted viewers. His powerful imagery and vibrant colours have made him one of Australiaís most highly regarded and iconic artists. With his use of light and shade he manages to combine intensely bold colours with a quiet introspective subtlety.

Ray enlisted in the army at the age of 18 where he was to travel from Western Australia to Townsville, through Cape York Peninsula and the Atherton tableland to Chillagoe and up to Thursday Island where he worked as a map-maker. During this period he made many pen and ink drawings and formed a lifelong affiliation with the tropics. Ray continued to travel to Fiji well into his eighties.

Along with being awarded an honorary doctorate, Ray has been the recipient of several notable awards. He won the Archibald Prize in 1969 for his portrait of the writer, George Johnston, and was made a member of the Order of Australia in 1993 for his contribution to Australia art. He was honoured by a national touring retrospective in 1997-98 and is represented by all state galleries, many regional galleries and the Vatican in Rome.

ìHaving spent four years or so in the army in the tropics ñ Torres Strait, Cape York and Borneo ñ I had developed an abiding interest in the history and people of the Pacific to the point that, when my contemporaries went off to Europe, I decided to see the Pacific and Australia first.î (Ray Crooke, 'Island Journal', Bede Publishing, Queensland, 2000, p. 102).

Crooke initially visited Thursday Island in 1949. It was at this time that he started to keep his island journal, an ordinary foolscap notebook which would eventually become the final publication to date of Rays life and work. In the early 1950s, Crooke and his young family lived in Cairns and on Thursday Island, returning to Melbourne in 1955.

1959 was a breakthrough year professionally for Crooke, with a successful solo exhibition at Australian Galleries in Melbourne. This led to shows with other leading commercial galleries in Sydney, Perth and Brisbane. The success of these exhibitions enabled Crooke and his family to return to Cairns where he commenced painting full time. For the majority of the following eight years, the Crooke family lived in the beach village of Yorkeys Knob in Cairns.

The early 1960s have been acknowledged as one of Crooke's most productive and important artistic periods. During this time he painted some of the major pictures of his career and successful exhibitions were held in several Australian capital cities. Using Yorkeys Knob as a base, he made numerous painting trips over the next decade throughout Cape York Peninsula and the Gulf country, and to central Queensland, Western Australia, New Guinea, Fiji and Tahiti.

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