Issue 208
May/June 2019


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May 23, 2019

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Victoria Crowe at City Arts

IN 1968 VICTORIA CROWE and her husband Michael Walton moved to Scotland from Kingston, London. Crowe had been invited by Robin Philipson, then Head of Painting at Edinburgh College of Art, to join the teaching staff. The couple did not set up home in Edinburgh, as was the choice of many of their contemporaries, but instead chose to live in the Pentland Hills, south of the city. Eventually, they settled in the hamlet of Kittleyknowe, near Carlops, and over the years the house, its garden and the immediate environs became the subject matter of a great deal of Crowe's painting.

Much of this is explained in a new book on Crowe's art by the critic Susan Mansfield, timed to coincide with a major retrospective at the City Art Centre, Edinburgh. In an illuminating introductory essay Mansfield makes a number of important observations about Crowe's approach to her work.

Citing the artist, Mansfield observes:

Victoria is a very fine draughtsman. Every painting begins with drawing; it is her way of analysing, understanding, recording what

With Michael Walton outside the Demarco Gallery at No 8 Melville Crescent

it is that's in front of her… She has said:

"I begin with acute observation. Then imagination and association transform objective reality into a complex personal dialogue, evolve layers of meaning elaborated by personal memories, set against the vastness of historical time."

However, it would be quite wrong to think of Crowe's underlying motivation as being driven by technique and her great painterly and observational abilities. As Mansfield makes clear, Crowe's work has always been about the quest for meaning and illumination, about exploration and necessity to delve beyond the surface of things.

This approach is suggested in her 1982 portrait of the eminent psycho-therapist, Dr Winifred Rushforth, who was versed in Jungian theory, the meaning and complexity of dreams and their relationship to the sub-conscious. As is the case with much of Crowe's work there is an intense autobiographical element – in this instance shown by the background 'landscape' of dinosaurs and swampland – which appeared in one of Crowe's own dreams.

It is not surprising in retrospect that Philipson was so taken by Crowe's work (seen at the end of her postgraduate studies at the RCA) because many of her concerns echoed his own. Not least was Philipson's relationship with the visual and emotional impact of Italian Renaissance painting. This legacy has resonated throughout her career and her attraction to the numinous includes a very fine work, Self-portrait with Icon, from 1964-65.

During a trip to Italy (Crowe's first) in 1992, Mansfield observes that:

The image of the Annunciation recurred throughout... It was almost as if she was being haunted by angels… .these winged messengers – with their news 'not only [of] the joyous announcement but, by implication, the shadow of future grief – had a message for her…

In 1995, Crowe's son, Ben, died at the age of twenty-two from a rare form of oral cancer. The Annunciation thus took on a very personal meaning and Crowe's work was flooded with the colours of a new palette and, out of intense grief, new possibilities.

The elegiac November Window, Reflecting, painted in 1996, shows Crowe at her most complex and powerful, where interior and exterior space, darkness and light, joy and grief, introspection and engagement with the external world, all combine. The lilies, which form the central motif, stand as luminous symbols of beauty and sorrow.

In 2000, Crowe's exhibition at The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, A Shepherd's Life, dealt with her friendship with Jenny Armstrong, her neighbour and stalwart keeper of sheep. It's good to see a selection of this work here and to be reminded of how this relationship provided such rich artistic material and, in a sense, provided Crowe with a powerful motivation to continue her journey of spiritual exploration.

If there is a fault in this new publication and show, then it lies in the former's relative brevity – at 112 pages, it's simply not comprehensive enough to do full justice to such an extensive and prolific career.

Victoria Crowe: 50 Years of Painting by Susan Mansfield, with contributions by Duncan Macmillan and Guy Peploe Sansom & Co £25 ISBN 978-1-911408-46-8

GILES SUTHERLAND

The Perfect Gift! New Scotland's Stations - Northern Books

"A wealth of insider information" - Scots Magazine
"Immersive and informative" - The Courier
"This beautifully illustrated guide" - RIAS Journal
"Many great pictures" - Scottish Field


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