Victoria Crowe Beyond Likeness
Victoria Crowe Beyond Likeness is the first major exhibition to focus on the artist’s work as a portrait painter, and with the 54 paintings and drawings in this exhibition we get an insight not only into the subjects of these works, but the artist herself.
Born in Kingston Upon Thames on VE day in 1945, Victoria Crowe studied at Kingston School of Art (1961 to 1965) and the Royal College of Art in London (1965 to 1968) and over the subsequent years has built up a deserved reputation as a painter with a very special insight into all of her work that encompassed not only portraiture, but landscapes, interiors and still life.
Portraits of numerous culture figures from the world of the arts, politics and the sciences feature in this exhibition, including Nobel Laureate Sir Peter Higgs, composer Thea Musgrave and astrophysicist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, but there is something else at work in these paintings than merely trying to capture the likeness of the sitter. Through innovative use of colour, textures and design, each painting has woven into its overall imagery images that are very personal to the sitter. Beyond Likeness is an appropriate name for this exhibition as Victoria Crowe is constantly looking beyond the immediate image of her sitters and trying to establish a link and a rapport with them to somehow get below their outward surface and see perhaps a little into the very identity and souls of them. Perhaps in these paintings we get as clear an example as possible as to why portrait painting and photography may on the surface appear to reach at times the same destination, but are in fact two completely different art forms. This is not the mechanical eye of a camera looking at its subject, but the human eye of an artist that perhaps is perceiving something extra that a camera lens will never be able to see.
Although this exhibition is one of portraits, there is far more going on in many of these compositions as backgrounds relating closely to the sitter explore a variety of vibrant colours and textures that at time remind me on a few paintings of works by Gustav Klimt (Browse and Darby for example) in their textural fabric swatch use of golden colour and design. Other designs on closer examination see Victoria Crowe taken us beyond the physical into almost meta physical and magical realms where sitter and background inter-weave with one another to create something that is. as the exhibition name implies. truly Beyond likeness. Victoria Crowe is clearly not just a “painter” but a designer of great vision too.
Victoria Crowe Beyond likeness is on now at The Scottish National Portrait Gallery until 18th November 2018
Review by Tom King