City Art Centre, Edinburgh: Victoria Crowe, 50 Years of Painting

Victoria Crowe Reflected Contemplation (2008)

Until 13 October

Victoria Crowe: 50 Years of Painting fills three floors of Edinburgh’s City Art Centre. This first-ever retrospective of Victoria Crowe’s considerable body of work spans five decades, ranging from promising student works right up to 2018. Over 150 artworks are on display, many from private collections. It’s also an opportunity to view drawings, sketches, prints and notebooks.

Born in Kingston on Thames in 1945, Crowe studied at Kingston School of Art and London’s Royal College of Art. In 1968 she took up a teaching post at Edinburgh College of Art. She has lived in Scotland ever since, with regular trips to her Venice studio – she has visited Italy regularly since 1992. Crowe has a long-standing relationship with The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh* – an integral force in gaining access to works from private collectors in this retrospective. Two popular exhibitions at the National Galleries of Scotland brought her work to a wider audience.

50 Years of Painting exhibition City Art Centre Victoria Crowe
Victoria Crowe: 50 Years of Painting exhibition | City Art Centre

 

The first floor loosely follows the early days and her move to the Scottish Borders, exploring the changing seasons of the local environment and its people. Many will recognise the stark winter tree series and scenes from the daily life of shepherdess Jenny Armstrong. You can spot glimpses of Crowe’s later techniques – scratching the painted surface to create pattern and texture.

notebook from 50 Years of Painting exhibition City Art Centre Victoria Crowe
Victoria Crowe | notebook from 50 Years of Painting exhibition

 

There is an ‘unreal’ quality emerging – following an early tutor’s advice of “trying not to make it real”. A video slideshow and display of her notebooks bring these techniques into greater detail.

In the 1980s, an interest in dreamwork and symbolism brought out a signature style to her large scale paintings to create sensitive, contemplative portraiture. The accompanying film, made for this exhibition, highlights her creative process and biography.

50 Years of Painting exhibition City Art Centre Victoria Crowe
Victoria Crowe | 50 Years of Painting exhibition | City Art Centre

 

On the second floor, we see the introduction of gold paint, over-printing, symbolic objects and collage. Picture planes are divided and layered as if viewed in a Venetian mirror or as an asymmetrical triptych dividing reality, memory and subconscious.

We also see a move from winter scenes to nocturnal landscapes, glowing Venetian sunsets, symbolic animals, flowers and objects. Here, Crowe paints the experience of fading light in a Scottish winter scene as skillfully as the sunset glow on a Venice canal. Crowe found solace in painting and creative work following the death of her son Ben at age 22. She further explores the human experience in her work: how we perceive memory, loss and the fleetingness of life.

Victoria Crowe Interior with Many Reflection detail (1999) oil on linen
Victoria Crowe | Interior with Many Reflection detail (1999) | oil on linen

 

On the third floor, we see her most recent work, some of it revisiting winter landscapes but infusing them with symbolism; others bringing a new richness of tone and colour. Finally, we experience her recent collaboration with composer Matthew Rose in 2017.

Victoria Crowe Memory Messages and Connections detail (2001)
Victoria Crowe | Memory Messages and Connections detail (2001) | oil on board

 

Crowe claims to have felt like an outsider at times in her life but Scotland has adopted her as one of their most accomplished contemporary artists. Her art explores both our internal and external worlds, from early landscapes to portraits examining memory and reflection through to assured landscapes imbued with light and poetry.

50 Years of Painting exhibition Victoria Crowe
Victoria Crowe | 50 Years of Painting exhibition | City Art Centre

 

This exhibition has a season ticket. Comments from both the visitor book and around the exhibition reveal that many have made return visits, including someone who has just completed their 11th visit. There is something valuable in returning to an exhibition but particularly so with Crowe. Her artworks invite slow viewing, contemplation. Return to the works that you are drawn to and stay moored for a while. There’s an alchemy in those layered planes, tonal harmonies and textured surfaces that you may have previously overlooked.

City Art Centre
2 Market Street
Edinburgh EH1 1DE
[open daily 10 – 5]

* A companion exhibition at The Scottish Gallery, ‘Victoria Crowe – 50 Years: Drawing & Thinking’ is on until 28th September.

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