15th March – 6th April 2019
The Fine Art Society in Edinburgh presents an exhibition of Scottish landscape paintings by Victoria Orr Ewing (b.1962). Her pictures depict remote crofts and unsullied vistas of Galloway, the Highlands and the west coast of Scotland all dwarfed by churning, luminescent skies.
Galloway-born Orr Ewing lived and painted in Andalucia for sixteen years, drawn to its wild landscapes and changing light. On her return to Britain this emphasis remained in her art, emboldened by the dark, complex hues of Scotland’s weather.
Orr Ewing paints primarily in oil on large-scale canvas, mostly from sketches done in front of the subject and often finished from memory. She joins a long tradition of Scottish landscape painters that began with Alexander Nasmyth in the late 18th century. By capturing nature’s overwhelming power and Scotland’s underpopulated landscape, Orr Ewing uses the scale of her pictures to envelope the viewer.
I would like my work to express our vulnerability in the face of the vastness of nature, to feel small and yet be a part of it. I also intend it to be about hope, the melancholy of place and hope in the future. The sunlight in the distance or breaking through the clouds. A remote house against the large sky, a road or fence suggests to me our ephemeral nature and fragility.
NEW SCOTTISH WORK
My latest work is a response to the light and colours of Scotland in winter. The sun slanting through a stormy sky touching the land with bright greens, coppers and golds. The sea often appears turquoise and the colours are further intensified by the backdrop of the dark skies. They are done largely from memory and is a celebration of the incredible beauty of Scotland. A small remote house against the large sky suggests to me our ephemeral nature and vulnerability in the face of the vastness of nature.
Interview with the artist:
Most of your landscapes and waterscapes are oil paintings: What is it about oil as a medium that appeals to you? Isn’t this a particularly difficult medium to master?
Oil is definitely my medium of choice. A lot of non-artists seem to be daunted by oil. But it is an easier medium to use than many others because it is far more malleable and versatile, and a lot of fun. It is endlessly manipulable, change is always possible whether you use it with soft brushes, thin it like a watercolour or apply it very thick with a palette knife and fingers. Of course it does need practice and study, if only to understand how to apply it.
I think it is difficult to get the richness and subtlety of colour that you can achieve with oil in other mediums. Oil takes a long time to dry, so it stays malleable longer, making it easier to achieve the soft edges I like in my work.
I used to do a lot of watercolour, and still love the way it is so immediate and loose, and very easy to use when you travel. When I first went to India I didn’t have a camera, just a set of watercolours and a sketchbook, so I painted a lot. I love charcoal too and tend to prefer brushes and ways of covering the surface fairly quickly rather than nibs.
You spent several months in Sri Lanka last year: What effect has that had on your work, and your use of light and shadow?
When I left Sri Lanka I wondered if it had been a mistake: I did not find the tropical landscape of the South very inspiring nor the light effects as sunset and sunrise are so fleeting there. But in retrospect I see that it pushed me to look elsewhere for my inspiration. I went back to studying small, natural forms. I like to draw attention to the landscape and structure within pieces of nature, like a broken shell or a dried flower and by amplifying them, I make them almost become abstract, something recognised yet unexpected.
I also found myself painting the moody skies of the monsoon, not as backdrops to the paddy fields and palm trees, but instead as a more urban landscape with small groups of people looking out over the stormy seas. That is something I want to continue doing here on the Spanish coast – and that should be interesting given most people’s attitude to the costa!
A lot of your paintings are of Scottish landscapes and seem to capture the effect of light – usually thrown by a low-set sun – on water. What is it that appeals to you about the light effects you experience in Scotland, and how does the different light in southern Spain affect your work? Growing up in Scotland I grew accustomed to the low light sandwiched between clouds and a glowering rugged landscape, and you find this quite often here in Spain too – the bands of lights and darks, strips of bright sky, shiny light reflected on water, pale mists and patches of sunlight touching horizons. These, in contrast to dark clouds and landscape, help achieve a strong abstract quality in a landscape. It is more important to me than where the landscape is or depicting a certain place.
I have been drawn to the wilderness, to landscapes with few or no signs of human presence. The landscape in some of Scotland, especially in winter, has the most extraordinary and beautiful colours and shapes, the bright bronze of dying bracken, ochre grasses, orange seaweeds against black rocks, purple heather. Lit by a low sun appearing from beneath a dark sky, these colours seem to glow with incredible richness. Rolling green fields never inspired me much.
SCOTTISH SKIES NOVEMBER 2012
Forward by Michael Heindorff.
A great passion for travel and living in distant places informs Victoria’s pictorial vision. Wherever she go she absorbs sensation, the characteristics of the faraway place. Victoria collects pictorial notes, the aesthetic magnet is to look at deep, empty spaces of nature and contemplate their changes in time. There is a compelling attraction in the phenomenology of the elements. It’s an inexhaustible dictionary of our condition. The pairing of opposites, as in the substance of landscape matter with the ephemeral fleeting moment of continuous change, arrests her attention, makes her want to paint it as a means of both taking position and claiming possession, making it hers. She absorb the light, and then mood, air and weather. There is a romantic dimension in that space extending beyond the visible, outside the edges of the painting and further than the horizon, intending to touch on the maybe, without being spelt out, and yet imagined.
Extensive experience of this elsewhere led her to acknowledge that the seeds for this language were sown during her childhood in the scottish landscape to which she returns with this new series of paintings.
“I would like these pictures to be about both the melancholy of place and the hope of a sense of endlessness.”
LIGHT ON ANDALUCIA 2009
I have a house on the slope of a mountain seven hundred metres above sea level. My present inspiration is the mountains and beaches of southern Andalusia. These paintings are about light and atmosphere, not the physical landscape, but how the circumstances of the moment, light, weather and time of day affect my vision of it. When the clouds are below the horizon and a small patch of sunlight breaks through a dark and moody sky to touch the mountainside I am inspired; a fire burning in a valley of green, or the first rays of sunlight on the windmills, a sea glittering between a dark sky and a still unlit land. I invite you to drift and meditate on this wild and natural landscape, to escape from a crowded and highly stimulated world, to capture a quiet feeling of space and wonder at nature’s power, occasionally punctuated by man’s intervention.