by Carla Scarano D’Antonio

I wanted the landscape and the person to be as one in nature: William Crozier

The bold brushstrokes and vibrant colours of William Crozier’s landscapes impress the viewers in the Upper Gallery at the Lightbox. The Scottish-Irish painter trained at Glasgow School of Art then settled in London for a period, where he met the Soho Bohemians. He was in Paris too, where he could observe the work of the avant-garde movements. Picasso’s energy and capacity to change style inspired him. The Mediterranean landscape and light were crucial in his early work. His first landscapes are reminiscent of Cubism and his still lives depicting flowers are mainly figurative. However, the exhibition focuses on the landscapes Crozier painted in the late 1950s and early 1960s. His work is featured in important museums such as the national galleries of Ireland, Poland, Canada and Australia and at Tate London. In 2017 a retrospective of his artwork was held at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin.

The artwork displayed at the Lightbox has a dramatic, immediate quality that reflects the ‘savagery just beneath the surface’ of our world, as the artist remarks. His art developed in the aftermath of the second world war and is connected to European and American abstract expressionism. His colours may also be loosely connected to the Scottish Colourists but his palette is more sombre and his work reflects the massacres of the war and the Nazi concentration camps. His abstract gestures are in line with ‘action painting’, reminiscent of artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning, Clyfford Still and Franz Kline. The landscapes have no literal references; they are images of the mind into which the artist reflects his emotions. Crozier’s work is inspired by both the countryside and the city; chromaticism, that is, adding grey to lower the chromatic intensity of the colour, is a technique the artist uses to express a sense of isolation and desperation seen to be inherent in contemporary life.

Image: William Crozier (1930-2011) [Untitled] Landscape, 1960 oil on paper © The Artist’s Estate and Piano Nobile.  

Crozier’s work is highly experimental; it depicts a bleak reality haunted by stagnation, destruction and death. However, his work maintains vitality in a cycle of death and reproduction that grants the continuity of life despite its mercilessness and brutal violence. It is a no man’s land in an apocalyptic background devastated by humankind. Life and death fight in a cruel environment that does not always grant survival. The artist feels free to do anything to express these sensations and describe this situation in a society where art has become redundant because of technological progress and a mass culture fuelled by escapism and fantasy. We are flooded with images and words in a world where it is difficult to leave a meaningful mark. Crozier’s work is an attempt to leave this mark. His fresh interpretations of landscapes carefully observed from a distance multiply the view beyond reality, conveying a dream that has not been dreamed before. There is nothing romantic in this work; on the contrary, human contribution is often seen as a loss from which there is no way back. His visual comments are stark and incisive, though open to multiple understandings precisely because of the abstract and free characteristic of his work.

Some interesting examples are the untitled landscapes in which the black marks prevail on apple greens, ochre, orange, vermillion and scarlet. Waves or round shapes contrast with the bold black marks intersecting with each other. We can imagine shapes of buildings, bridges, roads, or trees going upwards and roots digging downwards. The triptych composed in 1961 is reminiscent of human figures and uses striking reds contoured by black shapes that look like hollow ghosts, expressing an emptiness that cannot be resolved. Crozier’s vivid colours juxtapose with this desolate message, emphasising the vitality of his artistic production despite the artist’s awareness of the devastating human condition. The exhibition explains the complexity of Crozier’s message in a well-focused and exhaustive display of his artwork.

William Crozier: Nature into Abstraction, The Lightbox, Woking, 2 April–19 June 2022