John Craxton RA (1922-2009)
Young Sheffield Man, 1957

Oil on board

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Portraits: What you lookin' at?

Here we see a young man with a steady gaze, which along with his upright posture give a sense of self confidence. He stares out to the left of the frame, but what is he looking at? What is occupying his eye and causing such concentration in his stare? It seems as if Craxton has captured the young man in a quick moment – this is reflected in the artists’ technique which results in the final image having a sketch-like quality.

In this sea of painterly mark making and washes of earthy tones, Craxton, instead of carefully building up forms with tone or tentative brushstrokes, communicates his sitter’s likeness with a bold, harsh, dark brown outline. It is a tour de force of drawing - a testament to the artist as master of line. Most of the canvas is busy; the shirt is a plethora of dynamic horizontal and vertical lines while the background presents noisy and excitable brushwork. The eye is led around the canvas until it can finally rest on the whitish face, the only calm element in the canvas.