William Crozier (b.1930)
The Ripe Field

1989, Oil on Canvas, 130 x 130 cm

William Crozier was born in Glasgow in 1930, but spent much of his childhood in the quiet seaside town of Troon, in Ayrshire, about thirty miles from Glasgow. Crozier's parents had moved to Scotland before he was born; they were originally from Ballinderry, county Antrim. Visits to Ireland were a regular feature of Crozier family life, setting a pattern of living that has remained with him to this day. The artist sums up his family background with a comment that is both apt and typical: "My parents were more Scottish than Irish", he said, "when they were not being more Irish than Scottish." Crozier studied at the Glasgow School of Art from 1949 to 1952, then spent some time in Paris, where he was caught up in the Existential mood of the time. He then lived in Dublin for a number of years, working as a set painter for the Olympia theatre and Theatre Royal. He had his first one-man exhibition in London in 1957, and achieved early success as a painter. In the 1970s he began to teach at the Winchester School of Art, and from the early 1980s began to spend part of each year in West Cork.

Most of Crozier's recent paintings dwell on the Irish landscape, or more specifically, the landscapes of West Cork, near Ballydehob and Toe Head, where the artist has a house and studio. He works rapidly, applying bright, contrasting colours with expressive brushstrokes. The dichotomy between 'abstract' and 'figurative' proving an artificial and unsatisfactory demarcation, his approach to landscape painting can be seen to have taken inspiration from eastern as much as western art, not only in terms of the primacy of the subconscious, but also in the actual pictorial devices employed, such as the raising of the horizon line to the top of the painting and the rejection of Renaissance space in favour of a perspective that respects the picture plane. Paintings inspired by the Irish landscape often take shape in the Home Counties of England. The artist uses this dislocation in a conscious way:

I found working in Ireland of enormous importance to me, perhaps because it is very similar to where I grew up on the west coast of Scotland. A lot of Irish and Scottish writers, artists and musicians have had to distance themselves from the place they were because it is an art of reflection, of contemplation ... and looking backwards with a certain longing.

Crozier's paintings might appear to be about landscape, but they are more about identity. There is a self-awareness in his art that links not only its style with that of the Expressionists, but also its source, a consciousness of alienation, of dislocation. Yet he disclaims any belief in the self, or in the concept of self-expression: "If there is no self, it certainly can't be expressed", and describes Expressionism as 'a rather dreary thing after a while'. There is certainly nothing dreary about this painting of Toe Head, one of the favourite landscapes of West Cork that Crozier likes to paint. It is rendered with a passionate intensity of colour, but also a rigorous sense of composition that is common to most of Crozier's work.

Peter Murray

On Show in the Crawford Municipal Art Gallery, Cork, Ireland