REVIEW BY JAMES SULLIVAN
‘Victoria Crowe: 50 Years of Painting’ is an extensive collection of Crowe’s paintings and sketchbooks that were produced between the 1960s and today. Its focus appears to be the relationship between the viewer, artist and their myriad considerations. It doesn’t promote any way to look at this relationship and provides a lot more questions than answers. It makes the questions clear and wonders how much power we should or do have in answering them. This is both freeing and encumbering, beautiful and awful.
The exhibition is split over three floors. The first floor focuses on Crowe’s earlier paintings. In 1968, Crowe moved to a hamlet called Kittleyknowe in the Pentland Hills. Without revealing too much, they are set in and inspired by that area. What excited me, and I am smiling right now writing this, is that the Pentland Hills simultaneously appear a world unto their own, completely connected to everything and a mix of the two. This uncertainty can be applied to almost everything, and both questions and legitimizes the power of art and personal experience in thinking about things.
In 1992, Crowe visited Italy and was deeply influenced by Renaissance artwork and Italian architecture. The second floor primarily looks at Crowe’s artwork from just after her visit. In these, it becomes clear that there is an ongoing pattern of contrast in her paintings that makes it uncertain what the focus ought to be on. Crowe takes the contrast of light and dark shades to uncomfortable heights: for example, dusty, overpowering reds are contrasted with soothing beige and cool black squares. These are often combined with seemingly disparate items that are very close together. These force the viewer to try to link them and make decisions about how to look at the overall image. This makes the exhibition an intensely personal experience-unique, in a way, for each person. Personally, I felt a lot of emotions coming to the surface and realized that there are unexpected reasons why I make certain decisions about art and about everything.
The third floor contains Crowe’s more recent work. These take on a more mellow atmosphere. They mingle warm Italian skies, especially of Venice, with the cool tones of the Scottish countryside. I found myself focusing on the cool tones and the sadness of the image, disregarding the sunlight. This was interesting because I found the other artwork, in part, beautiful.
The structures of the individual floors of the exhibition are a bit confusing though this seems intentional. It is a jumbled collection of interlocking rooms, with information boards positioned in places without any rhyme or reason. In a way, this is like a motif and adds to the uncertain atmosphere. I would have liked a little more gentle guidance, but then again, I’d like that in life too. The exhibition once again becomes more personal than I’d expected.
‘Victoria Crowe: 50 Years of Painting’ runs at the City Art Centre until 13 October 2019.