Spindly trees, luminescent skies, silhouettes, reflections and stars. This is the stuff of Victoria Crowe’s first series of new work at the Scottish Gallery following the major retrospective which was held in 2019 – the time before these times – over five months at Edinburgh’s City Art Centre.

The works are deeply evocative, thickly wooded, intensely human yet only faintly suggesting a human presence, from the warmth of lights in a cottage window in the deep blues of a night-time forest to the sudden reflected self-portrait in a garden view through a window.

Rather magically, too, next to these 12 works, hung sparsely in the gallery and accompanied by a display case of Crowe’s sketchbooks, are 12 evocative poems, each inspired by one of the paintings.

And yet if the works are meditative, stark sometimes, the lead-up to their creation was anything but. “It was sort of funny timing,” Crowe tells me, over the phone from her home in the Borders.

“In 2019, at the time of the retrospective, I had cancer treatment, then a long period of recovery,” she says, of the rigours of the very aggressive cancer with which she was dealing, and the exhausting side effects that hit some six months after treatment.

“It was such a strange time seeing a lifetime’s work on the walls and then dealing with something very nasty at the same time.”

Painting was out of the question. “My normal routine is to be in the studio working away most days – and I couldn’t do that any more. Then lockdown came along. A lot of people said the world had changed for them. Illness changes us too – a double whammy. All these paintings came out of a period of immense personal change.”

It was the fragility of the world and its interrelation with the pandemic that hit home, says Crowe. She found herself, like the rest of us, doing a lot of looking at her local environment – for Crowe, the deeply wooded West Linton. Some six months in, she thought of involving a poet. “At the City Art Centre, five poets had responded to the work, so I thought it might be an interesting idea.”

She sent Christine De Luca an image on email, “and she immediately wrote a poem!” Crowe was delighted.

“When you’re writer or artist, you work in isolation so much. It was wonderful to have a conversation going on between us at a distance. I found it quite revealing.”

The first image which Crowe sent to De Luca, last October was called The Amazing Clarity of the Night Sky. “It was back in March 2020, just after the lockdown, and there were such incredibly clear, immense skies with the Moon and Venus, very high up.

“I wasn’t able to paint it for five months – it took that length of time for it to coalesce into something I could paint directly. It seemed to make sense of all the other images – a kind of fulcrum piece.”

Crowe felt De Luca’s words summed up what she was trying to do in her painting.

“She says in one of the poems, ‘One tree stands bold between uncertainty and something like eternity,’ and I felt, wow! That is such an incredible concept, and it’s what that particular painting was about – the season changing, of day becoming night and then day again, of a continuum.”

Both Crowe and De Luca completed the work in March this year. “And by that time, I had recovered. I had my strength back again and this extraordinary sense of being reinvigorated, seeing where I was almost in a new light.”

Whilst the Scottish Gallery is “open”, these are the inbetween times, and so Crowe and De Luca are doing a number of events online.

“We have the extra bonus of a group of young Scottish composers commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust writing new works in response to the paintings,” says Crowe, clearly delighted to be supporting musicians at this time. The settings variously comprise solo voice, violin, French horn or clarinet. “I’ve not heard the pieces yet, but Christine can read music, and she tells me they’re very modern and complicated!”

Crowe laughs. The planned concert in the gallery cannot take place under current restrictions, but the idea is to record there, “and hopefully Christine and I will get to be there...although we might have to sit in the garden!”

In the meantime, she is back in the studio, her new work a continuum from these 12 paintings. “I’m just trying to keep that energy going.”

Another Time, Another Place: Victoria Crowe and Christine De Luca, The Scottish Gallery, 16 Dundas Street, Edinburgh, 0131 558 1200, www.scottish-gallery.co.uk, Until 29 May, Tues - Fri, 11am - 4pm; Sat, 11am - 2pm. A book containing paintings and poetry is available to accompany the exhibition.

19 May, 5pm: Poetry Reading, Christine De Luca

Don't Miss

WITH Mental Health Awareness Week drawing to a close, an art project on the horizon at An Lanntair seeks to challenge the stigma that is often felt around mental health, in a group exhibition in the cafe space of this Hebridean arts centre. Artists involved include Martyn McKenzie and Kate McAllan, alongisde staff and participants from Penumbra, Western Isles Foyer and Catch 23 in Stornoway.

Reliquary, An Lanntair, Kenneth Street, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, 01851 708480, lanntair.com 22 May - 26 June, Tues - Sat, 10am - 5pm - check website for June opening hours

Critic's Choice

COLLECTIVE, high up on top of Edinburgh’s Calton Hill, has reopened this week, the old Playfair observatory the home to two very different gallery spaces as well as outdoor grounds with breathtaking views.

Opening in the large City Dome space, which used to house a suitably large telescope (there are still some inside the main building), is Christian Newby’s Flower-Necklace-Cargo-Net (pictured) a large scale tapestry draped from the ceiling and an accompanying newspaper, made by the artist.

Newby, an experimental textile artist, graduated from Glasgow School of Art in 2009, and is now based in London. This is his largest comission to date, the tapestry itself nine metres wide, an architectural intervention to divide this wonderful circular space.

Newby has created the whole with a hand-held tufting gun, an instrument normally used in industrial processes to make carpets.

Newby here uses it to create his colourful imagery, flowers alluding to traditional tapestry motifs, surrounded by a net motif that alludes, Newby says, to the experience of the lockdown from which we have all just emerged.

Accompanying the tapestry is a newspaper, produced by the artist, containing texts on the process, on the maintenance of the tufting gun, on the decision-making and mark making of the process, alongside an essay by Andrew Bourne.

In the Hillside exhibition space, you can catch Holly McLean’s film, “If you get the knees right the rest should follow.”

As ever, for those who make it to the top of this remarkable hill, the Collective kiosk is open for coffee and cake.

Christian Newby: Boredom>Mischief>

Fantasy>Radicalism>Fantasy, Collective, City Observatory, 38

Calton Hill, Edinburgh, 0131 556 1264, collective-edinburgh.art Until 29 Aug, Thurs-Sun, 10am-4pm