Creeps and Don Roberto

This painting is by Joseph Crawhall, a British artist who lived in Spain (in a brothel), stayed drunk, and died at 34. Nevertheless, he seemed to be a happy man.

Of him, Don Roberto wrote :

Although he spoke to no one, it was evident that he had seen not only every person in the room, but every object in it. For a considerable time he sat, turning over listlessly the pages of The Field, and drinking several stiff whiskies and sodas, that had no effect upon him, except to seem to seal his lips more firmly, not that it seemed a voluntary act, but something born with him, as were his lustrous eyes or his sleek head. His slightly bandy legs he had acquired through early riding, for he was seldom off a horse, holding that Providence would have bestowed four legs on man had he intended him to go afoot. The man was Joseph Crawhall, known to his friends as “Creeps” — why, no one seemed to know.

Unknown all his life to the general public, and even now only appreciated by his fellow artists, he certainly was a man of genius, if any painter ever merited the term. Genius, I take it, is the power of doing anything in such a way that no one else can do it. That (and fifty other things) separates it from talent, for talent merely does in a superior way what other men can do. Thus talent does not excite enmity, as is so often the fate of genius, for we all dislike that a mere man such as ourselves possesses something we can never hope to compass, even by years of unremitting toil.

Those who like myself are quite profane to the pictorial art, holding it as a miracle — but the mind of man is the greatest of all miracles, a miracle of miracles — that by some few strokes on a flat surface of canvas or of paper, a vase looks round and solid, a horse or stag is made to gallop. or a familiar face is reproduced, could see that there was something wonderful in Crawhall’s art. Something there was as I see art — but then my vision may be more limited than I suspect- that linked him by pictorial succession to the art of the great draughtsmen of the caves of Altamira.

“Crawhall, as they did, left out everything not essential, not as some leave out most that is essential, in their search after originality. Whether the prehistoric artists studied, as I think they must have, for I believe no miracles except that cited above, we do not know. Certainly Crawhall had been kept hard to learn the ribs and trucks of his profession (as Joseph Conrad might have said) in his youth, by his father, a book illustrator of repute in Newcastle-on-Tyne. Thus drawing became like thinking to him, and I think just as subconsciously. It was his speech. His pencil was to him what the tongue is to other men. He talked with it, for no sachem of the Iroquois could have been more silent in ordinary life. Lavery used to call him the Great Silence, and no one ever better merited the name. Whether he would have produced more if he had drunk less is a moot question.”

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