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Art review: Victoria Crowe: Resonance of Time at Flowers Gallery, Cork Street, London W1

29 April 2022

Jonathan Evens sees a magical exploration of nature and light in paint

© Victoria Crowe, courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Victoria Crowe, Language of the Night, 2021. More images in the gallery

Victoria Crowe, Language of the Night, 2021. More images in the gallery

ONE tree standing bold “between uncertainty and something like eternity”. This line from the Scottish poet Christine de Luca, written in response to an early image created by Victoria Crowe, after the double blow of cancer treatment and lockdown, speaks into the space inhabited by “Resonance of Time”.

In this exhibition, Crowe continues her long-running investigation into the metaphysical landscape, and our relationship to nature, real and transmuted.

When the first lockdown began, Crowe was recovering after cancer treatment and was unable to paint, while still processing the impact of her illness. Her 2019 retrospective in Edinburgh had been held during her treatment, and had been followed by an extended recovery, which overlapped with lockdown.

Once she had processed some of what had happened enough to recommence painting, her focus had become the immediate landscape seen from her window. Several poets had responded to her retrospective, and she picked up that connection, sharing new images with de Luca, which, in their interaction, articulated the space that she was inhabiting and later informed the images in “Resonance of Time”.

These are images of trees as live beings communicating with us — as do the Ents in Tolkien’s mythology — some solitary, others grouped within landscapes. Viewpoints are either high up, looking down, as though from a window, or close up and personal. Those brought close up are primarily coral-ark maple and flare-like burning bushes: symbols of mystery — positioned between uncertainty and eternity — in the darkness of the night.

These are images that sit in the borderlands between permanence and transience, capturing the still point of the turning world in moments of twilight, in which the setting sun still blazes in the reflecting waters of a still lake, or snow turns blue in the early light of the moon. The varying lights of twilight create the subtle and yet vibrant colours of these landscapes, and tree studies with their immersion in this liminal time of transition, which is both now and not yet.

Still, In the Snow sets Crowe’s trees in stark contrast to the bleached northern sky, their delicate tracery of bare, threadlike branches rendered with acute clarity. Language of the Night has its solitary tree incandescent in the foreground of a darkening forest. Strange Illumination places a bare skein of branches alongside the veins of leaves, finding trees within leaves and reversing their colour schemes in doing so.

Crowe is widely known for her winter landscapes, which are often painted from recollections of walking at dusk. A low blaze of crimson on the horizon will often signal the transitory moments of twilight, in which she finds elements of dream and combines these with strong visual memories of place. The twilight within her works is also reflective of an inner life, indicating a transitional and contemplative state between beginnings and endings. Shining of a Late Sun provides one example through its flashes of jewelled colour against lengthening shadows and fading light. Crowe says: “For me, it is a positive honouring of past event and memory — melancholy is underrated.”

Her special form of magic involves transforming observations of everyday experience into the strikingly unfamiliar through symbolic associations with dream and memory. She captures fleeting moments in which the natural world appears abstracted, whether the luminous silhouettes of winter trees or the quietude of softened hillside landscapes blanketed by snow.

Smoke and Mirror, as with Journey through Twilight, provides evidence (unusual for Crowe) of human activity and presence. The tangible sign of smoke acts as a pillar of cloud, while the reflective surface of water is lit by the red and oranges of the setting sun. The foreground trees are lit with blues and greens. Crowe’s colour choices create her dreamlike atmosphere, and yet may well also reflect her intense attention to the unusual colours generated by the dusk light.

The small but thrilling Denser than Light gives us a Samuel Palmer-like moon framed by the encroaching reach of branches from a dark forest. Whether framing the moon or seeking to obliterate its light, this is a marvellous image of a strong luminosity lighting our way in life as among trees. For Crowe, light is all, creating contemplation of beauty and guiding our steps by the illumination of paths.

“Victoria Crowe: Resonance of Time” is at Flowers Gallery, 21 Cork Street, London W1, until 21 May. Phone 020 7439 7766. flowersgallery.com

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