Currently on display at The City Art Centre is a major retrospective of paintings by celebrated Scottish artist Victoria Crowe OBE, RSA, FRSE. Most renowned for her portrait and landscape work, Crowe boasts an impressive artistic career. Her artworks are held in the Scottish National Galleries and National Portrait Gallery collections, as well as many private collections alongside.
The exhibition sees Crowe’s artwork spanning three floors of the City Art Centre and featuring over 150 paintings. It charts her work chronologically from her early student pieces, to more recent works of landscape and portraiture. Also included are hugely impressive tapestries; adaptions of her paintings produced at Dovecot Studios. Crowe has had many famous sitters in her time, including Sir Professor Peter Higgs and renowned composer Thea Musgrave.
Locating herself within the Scottish borders, Crowe is heavily influenced by the surrounding landscape of the Pentland Hills. Her renowned series A Shephard’s Life, painted between 1970 and 1985, features in the exhibition. The series depicts the life of Jenny Armstrong, an elderly shepherd from the Scottish Borders who was Crowe’s neighbour at Kitleyknowe. The series is predominantly layered white paintings, beautifully textured and interrogative of the blistering Scottish winter landscapes. The small figure of Jenny is often depicted walking across the snowy landscape of skeletal winter trees.
Throughout the exhibition, it becomes evident that Crowe utilises painting as a means to understanding the world around her. She utilises a blend of mediums, including oil paint, watercolour, gold leaf, print making techniques and materials; to create incredibly layered and visceral imagery. Her paintings are often split and divided into panels, allowing for the works to break down within themselves.
Having had a studio in Italy, Crowe has greatly developed and honed her ability to depict light and colour within her work. Dominant red and blue hues scatter her artworks, with heavy painterly embellishment featuring amongst them. Crowe was very much influenced by her travels; particularly with her trips to India which inspired her layering, decorative embellishment and use of pattern in her work.
Her works span several themes, with time being a prominent one. Tragically, her son Ben died from cancer aged nineteen. Several of her portraits depict him in his youth, lit up in soft yellows and backdrops of warm reds. The paintings convey her grief as a mother, yet they also allow her to make certain sense of the tragedy.
The exhibition features a broad range of her sketchbooks alongside various paintings, which give helpful insight into her working methods and composition arrangements. As Victoria Crowe states, ‘a sketchbook can be all of these things: A personal symbolic language, a place to play, a place to question, an interpretation of the world, a memory trace, a gathering of information…’
Crowe works with a sensitivity that makes her paintings unique not only in her articulate use of her materials, but also her choice of subject matter. This is an exhibition which lingers with you long after you have walked out of the gallery.
Exhibition runs until 13th October.