The Gallery acknowledges the passing of Ray Crooke AO (12 July 1922–5 December 2015), and we pause to reflect on his unique vision, particularly of the tropical north of Queensland, and celebrate his extraordinary contribution to Australian art. Crooke was a romantic-realist artist whose images emerged from an acute and highly sensitive observation of the world around him. For more than fifty years he painted evocative and distinctive pictures that represented the light, shade, atmosphere and people of tropical landscapes.
Crooke was born in Melbourne in 1922 and began working in 1937 as a junior in a Melbourne Advertising Agency, studying three nights a week at Swinburne Technical College. At the outbreak of World War Two, Crooke enlisted in the army and was stationed on Thursday Island and at Cape York. In the tropics and on the islands Crooke met people whose lifestyle and lands captivated him. After the war he returned to Swinburne as a student supported through the Commonwealth Reconstruction Program.
In 1951 Crooke married June Bethell and returned to North Queensland, living and working in Cairns and on Thursday Island. They lived for a short while in Brisbane, running a fabric printing business, before returning to Melbourne where Crooke began teaching at Swinburne Technical College. Successful exhibitions in 1957 and 1959 enabled the Crookes to return to the north, where they lived at Yorkeys Knob and where Crooke could paint full time. In 1969 Crooke won the Archibald prize with a portrait of his friend, the writer George Johnston and in 1993 he was made a member of the Order of Australia for services to the visual arts.
The island and landscape themes that so profoundly affected Crooke as a young man sustained him artistically, intellectually and emotionally throughout a long and productive career. The Gallery currently holds seven exemplary works by Crooke dating from 1948 to the 1980s. Crooke’s enduring legacy will be images of quiet, exceptional power that, for the past fifty years, have expanded our understanding of the cultural and geographic diversity of Australia.
The work is currently hanging in the QAGOMA Members Lounge at the Queensland Art Gallery.
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