Wednesday, 1 April 2015


IAN Collins began his passion for Dorset through artist John Craxton’s love of the county. His friendship with Craxton has led to the opening, by David Attenborough no less, of the biggest exhibition of the late artist’s works at the Dorset County Museum. For most, Craxton will not be a familiar name – but the great and good in the art world will know of him. His work features both Dorset and Crete where he spent some of his happiest years. He was dubbed a neo romantic, a label he hated and was a life-long friend of Lucian Freud, also meeting and being inspired by Picasso. Ian Collins, a former regional journalist, had known Craxton for a decade and is his art executor. He has completed one book on Craxton, with another likely to follow.

HOW did your love of Dorset start?
Through John who, by all accounts, was a tearaway in his school years, and continued in much the same vein when he was sent to Dorset to live. He’s unusual in many ways but claims to have had only three official records of himself – a birth certificate, a passport and a death certificate. He lodged with an artist uncle and aunt in an ancient cottage in the Cranborne Chase, close to the Pitt Rivers collection which he was given free access to. I met him through Prunella Clough. He seemed to know everyone and was a great friend of Lucien Freud. At our first meeting, in about 2000, at a wake, we got talking, went to the pub and had supper. I asked him that evening if I could write his biography but he said no, as he had done to other similar requests… but I started writing it, secretly.

WHAT was it he, and you liked about Dorset?
It seemed to appeal to his nomadic personality, but also a love of wild, unspoilt places. Dorset suited him because of its relative remoteness – much as Greece did later in life, but also because it was better for his health. As a young man he was said to have pleurisy but it was probably TB.

HOW long have you been interested in art?
Almost as long as I can remember; I studied economics at Manchester University but spent all of my time looking at paintings. When I finished I joined the Eastern Daily Press as a journalist but carried on spending too much time looking at art and studying artists. I did all the routine things - court, councils, inquests and the rest of it and for quite a time worked in press gallery at the House of Commons. I stuck it out for 34 years but was also writing books on the side and arranging exhibitions.

HOW long has this Dorchester exhibition been in the making?
It’s the biggest ever retrospective of his work and features around 120 pictures and objects. It’s the biggest collection of his work to be seen in one place since an exhibition in London in 1967 when a critic in The Times described him as an artist who struggled against happiness.
I came down to Dorset after he died in 2009 and, in a way, I’ve been putting the exhibition together ever since. In a way he’s taken over my life. There’s something about crossing the border into Dorset. As soon as I get here I know I’m somewhere different and ancient, which is very much reflected in the work that John did here. His Dorset works are often dark but there’s a great colour burst in the work from Greece.

ARE there other exhibitions planned?
I’m working on one in Cyprus which will then go on tour throughout Greece and there’s a show in Athens planned next month. Much of this exhibition will go to Salisbury after the Dorchester event finishes in September.

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