Ray Crooke

Ray Crooke and Island Boy, St Paul's Mission, Moa Is 1949NORTH OF CAPRICORN

Perc Tucker Regional Gallery
Townsville, Queensland, Australia
Australian Tour1997 - 1999

Retrospective curated by Grafico Topico's SUE SMITH

A retrospective exhibition of some 70 works by Queensland’s internationally famous artist, renowned for his vibrant paintings of the people and places of northern Australia and the South Pacific

NORTH OF CAPRICORN: the art of RAY CROOKE was at the Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, Townsville, Australia, from 21 November to 4 January 1998 before touring to Cairns, Gladstone, Rockhampton, Brisbane, Campbelltown, Canberra and Melbourne.

Ray Crooke, born in Melbourne in 1922, is one of the best loved of Australian artists who have travelled and worked in the tropics, and this is the first exhibition to cover his entire career. Some 70 paintings and watercolours have been gathered from private and public collections in Australia. Many of the works have never been seen by the Australian public.

" He belongs to that rare band of artists who have subtly changed our way of looking at the world. He has revealed the tropical north [of Australia] as it has never been revealed before. We are in his debt to the extent that we now tend to see that part of the country through his eyes and with his vision." 

Crooke has travelled extensively throughout Australia and the South Pacific. His sojourns in rural Victoria and New South Wales, Cape York Peninsula, the Torres Strait, the Kimberley region, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Tahiti have inspired much of his art.

Ray Crooke first visited the old frontier and mining towns of Cape York, and Australia's northern-most town, Thursday Island, as a 21-year-old serviceman during the Second World War. The light, the colour, the indigenous people and the history of these places made a tremendous impression on him.In 1949, at the age of 27, Crooke returned to the north and lived among the Islanders at Thursday Island and Moa Island in the Torres Strait. He drew the Islander people as they fished on the reef, wove mats, and rested from the heat in their darkened huts. There were evenings of dancing and singing under kerosene lamps; Sunday church services with Islander hymns; a funeral followed by feasting. Towards the end of his Torres Strait stay, Crooke signed on for eight weeks as a diver on a trochus lugger working the reefs scattered throughout the Strait. 

Crooke’s early experiences in the Torres Strait have inspired many of the magnificent paintings in the exhibition, such as Sit down dance c.1958-59, Trochus divers c.1960 and Federal Hotel, Thursday Island 1960. 

Those who know Ray Crooke only for his island paintings, however, may be surprised by his versatility. He has painted religious subjects and still lifes, and recorded outback and farm landscapes, bush towns and Sydney Harbour. Crooke is also a skilled portrait painter and the exhibition includes such outstanding works as the Portrait of George Johnston 1969, which won the 1969 Archibald Prize, and Portrait of Dick Roughsey 1982. The image to the left is a detail of the Johnston portrait. 

NORTH OF CAPRICORN: the art of RAY CROOKE was curated by Sue Smith.
The exhibition is supported by a fully illustrated book containing essays and accounts of Crooke’s remarkable life and work by Sue Smith, James Gleeson, George Johnston, Russell Drysdale and Daryl Lindsay.

The Perc Tucker Regional Gallery’s art collection and exhibitions embracing the theme of the tropics have done much to provide north Queensland with an internationally recognised cultural profile. Major exhibitions and accompanying books include Luk Luk Gen! Look Again: Contemporary Art from Papua New Guinea 1990, which toured Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia; Artist in the Tropics 1991, which documented 200 years of art in north Queensland; and Anneke Silver: 30 Years in North Queensland 1995.

This touring exhibition and accompanying book would not have happened without the generosity of the sponsors. The exhibition sponsors are : Townsville City Council, the Gordon Darling Foundation, The Myer Foundation, the Queensland Arts Office, Mr Peter Purcell, The Courier-Mail, ABC Radio, The University of Queensland, Cairns Regional Gallery, the Regional Galleries Association of Queensland, Redleg Art Equipment Trucks & Crating, and Australian airExpress.

"North of Capricorn - the art of Ray Crooke" by Sue SmithNorth of Capricorn: the art of Ray Crooke by Sue Smith
Available from The Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, Townsville, Queensland, Australia
Telephone +61 7 4727 9011 for all enquiries