Ray Crooke

Born in Victoria in 1922.Inspired by Gauguin, he is remembered largely for his post-war paintings of the tropical north and the Pacific Islands.

Having enjoyed illustrating and drawing from a young age, Ray Crooke joined an advertising agency, enrolling in night classes at the Swinburne Technical College at the age of 15. His position at the advertising agency was short-lived with the commencement of World War 2. Crooke enlisted in the Australian army and for the first time left Victoria. His drawing skills were signaled out and Crooke was assigned the task of map-making.
It was during this time that Crooke saw in the flesh the various locations in the tropics that would feature heavily in his future artworks. Places such as the Cape York Peninsula, Thursday Island and Borneo left a lasting impression and despite the bloodshed of war, Crooke remembered these places as idyllic and isolated.
After the war, Crooke returned to Melbourne and completed his training in drawing and etching at Swinburne Technical College in 1948. Crooke never directly prescribed to any particular movement although the romanticism evident in his works bore similarities with those of the Sydney Charm School. He preferred to work in a solitary environment, though his brief meeting with fellow artist Russell Drysdale in the 1940s was a memorable experience for Crooke and exposed him to paintings of outback landscapes which Crooke would never forget.
For the next decade Crooke focused on drawing and etchings, his early works being influenced by the works of William Blake and Samuel Palmer. He travelled to Thursday Island, the Great Barrier Reef and Moa Island, painting and drawing local scenes. He began to keep detailed illustrated journals that would be used as a reference for future works. It was not until the late 1950s that Crooke began to paint with oils regularly and with this transition came an increasing interest in the impact of colour.
In 1959, Crooke had his first major solo exhibition at Australian Galleries in Melbourne. Following the success of this show he went on to exhibit at Terry Clune Galleries in Sydney in 1960 and at Skinner Galleries in Perth in July of the same year. The success of these early exhibitions allowed Crooke and his family to move to Cairns in 1961 where he was able to paint full-time.
In 1963, Crooke was selected to be a part of a travelling exhibition of Australian painters shown at the Tate Gallery in London and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. Crooke’s profile as a leading Australian artist continued to rise and was invited in 1966 to travel to South Vietnam as an official war artist (he declined the appointment). Crooke won the Archibald Prize in 1969 for his portrait of the writer George Johnston.
In 1971 one of Crooke’s religious paintings The Offering was selected by the Vatican Museum to be included in their new gallery of modern religious art. A few years later in 1974, Crooke travelled to London. This trip would become a highly important one in hindsight with the Australian High Commissioner at the time, John Armstrong, commissioning Crooke to paint a series of murals at Australian House in London. A trip to Paris with fellow Australian artist Margaret Olley allowed Crooke to admire the works of artists’ that had influenced his style and technique in the flesh, most notably Gauguin and the Post-Impressionists.
The following year brought both success and heartache to the Crooke family. The large murals of outback scenes were unveiled at Australia House however Ray’s success was sadly dampened with the passing of his daughter, Susan in December.
For the next two decades Crooke would spend much of his time travelling and moving between Sydney and Cairns. In 1993 Crooke was made a member of the Order of Australia for his contributions to the visual arts. He also received an Honorary Doctorate from Griffith University in 1996 and in 1997 a major retrospective exhibition of Crooke’s work was held at the Perc Tucker Regional Gallery in Townsville and toured to various locations in Queensland, Canberra and Melbourne.
In 2005 the Cairns Regional Gallery held a travelling exhibition of Crooke’s works titled ‘Encounters with Country: Landscapes of Ray Crooke’. The show was also displayed at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery (VIC), Orange Regional Gallery (NSW), S. H. Ervin Gallery (NSW), Queensland University Art Museum (QLD) and the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery (NSW).
Today Crooke’s works can be found in several major collections across the country including the National Gallery (Canberra), the Art Gallery of New South Wales (Sydney), National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne), Queensland Art Gallery (Brisbane), Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (Hobart), Art Gallery of Western Australia (Perth), Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Newcastle Regional Art Gallery.

REFERENCES
Smith, S., North of Capricorn: the art of Ray Crooke, Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, 1997, Queensland
Wison, G., Encounters with Country: Landscapes of Ray Crooke, Cairns regional Gallery, 2005, Queensland