Scenic, Spiritual and Symbolic Visions of Nature at the Scottish Gallery Edinburgh

Pascale Rentsch, 'Struggle is the Source of Power 1', mixed media on paper
Pascale Rentsch, 'Struggle is the Source of Power 1', mixed media on paper

Amongst the Trees

Tue - Fri 11:00 - 18:00, Sat 11:00 - 14:00

From: 6 Jun 2024

To: 27 Jul 2024

The Scottish Gallery
16 Dundas Street
Edinburgh & the Lothians

Share this page

An imaginatively-curated exhibition for the summer season as part of NT Art Month, Amongst the Trees brings together two-dozen distinctively-different artists encompassing paintings, prints, drawings and sculpture; the aim is to ‘beckon the viewer into unexplored realms …for reflection on humanity and our environment’.

The renowned artist Victoria Crowe, now in her 80th year, focuses on the liminal borderland between permanence and transience of place, space and time in her lyrical landscapes: ‘In my work as a painter, the iconography of trees and botanical structures has been a constant inspiration. I begin with acute observation, then imagination transforms objective reality, elaborated by personal memories.’

Here are exquisite studies of trees through the shifting light of day and season; the sweeping expanse of a cropless field in Trees with Farmland creates a panoramic perspective for the small copse and distant hills under an icy-white winter sky. Tall slender trunks and twig-like branches lean and bend at all angles, as the clear purity of light illuminates the stillness and solitude of the countryside like a pastoral melody. 

Victoria Crowe, 'Trees with Farmland', 2015, ink wash, double screenprint
Victoria Crowe, ‘Trees with Farmland’, 2015, ink wash, double screenprint

Crowe has an intuitive approach in capturing an allusive, dreamlike ambience. With understated simplicity, the monoprint Against the Light, Clarity delineates the silhouetted woodland, bathed in the glimmering, blue-tinted glow of dusk as leafless branches stretch out like skinny arms towards the sky. A meditative vision of the fragile character of nature’s birth, decay and rebirth, with seamless serenity. 

Victoria Crowe, 'Against the Light, Clarity', 2015, monoprint
Victoria Crowe, ‘Against the Light, Clarity’, 2015, monoprint

Also sharing her dendrophile interests, Kirstie Behrens depicts evocative woodland scenes in delicate etchings in which ‘natural elements are used actively as tools, creating marks which are traces and evidence of the passage of time’.  

One of these meticulously crafted, languid landscapes is Winter Trees, where the fir trees appear to line up like a parade of soldiers in bushy bearskin hats, branches conveyed with feathery finesse. With a hint of rain clouds, frosty grass and gusty breeze, this is a dark, stark winter day with poetic minimalism. 

Kistie Behrens, 'Winter Trees', etching
Kistie Behrens, ‘Winter Trees’, etching

Winter Trees
The wet dawn inks are doing their blue dissolve,
On the blotter of the trees
Seem a botanical drawing –
Memories growing, ring on ring,
A series of weddings.

Sylvia Plath

A distinctively diverse landscape artist, (cities, bridges, the natural world), in 2010 Kate Downie visited Beijing and Shanghai to study Chinese ink painting techniques. In a suite of painterly monotypes are illustrations of Autumnal crimson leaves and Crabapple trees. These are a symbol of fertility, love and marriage linked to the fragrant spring blossom and sweet fruit. With loose, flowing calligraphic brushstrokes for the twisted trunk and tangled branches, these are perfectly balanced, delightfully ornamental illustrations. 

Kate Downie, 'Golden Crabapple', 2024, monotype
Kate Downie, ‘Golden Crabapple’, 2024, monotype

After studying environmental art at the GSA, Claire Harkess spent a year as artist-in-residence at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, to study birds and wildlife for her watercolours; as she says, ‘In search of a simplicity and beauty through the painting of a line, shape, colourthe balance of pigment, water, paper, brush is key.’ 

A palette of pale pigment in soft turquoise and moss green for the threadlike branches and leaves is set against a hazy mist of trees, where a tiny Song Thrush, with its beak wide open, heralds the break of dawn. 

Claire Harkess, 'Morning Song', 2023, watercolour
Claire Harkess, ‘Morning Song’, 2023, watercolour

Abstraction completely transformed the conceptual definition of what landscapes can be, as explored by the Scottish artist Euan Heng, who now lives in Australia. His work derives from something seen, heard or remembered through a symbolic language of elegant lines and geometric shapes for recurring motifs such as trees and sea. In Landmark 2020, a scalloped, curved edge frames what may represent a green forest and lake under a blue moon. No sense of spontaneity here; the defined flatness of colour, form and space is purposely designed in this bold abstract composition. 

Euan Heng, 'Landmark', 2020, oil on linen
Euan Heng, ‘Landmark’, 2020, oil on linen

Pascale Rentsch is a Swiss-born artist living in East Lothian, surrounded by countryside and coastline. She sketches and paints en plein-air, working instinctively to respond to the wildness of nature and elements. The viewer is drawn into this environment, as if actually there on the sand dune, with its carpet of green grasses, hawthorn and yellow gorse and whiff of a seasalt breeze. 

My language is paint. I enjoy working outside with my materials, exploring mark-making and connecting with my surroundings, reacting to what I see, feel and hear.‘ – Pascale Rentsch

Here are glorious sketches of flowers, curving bay, calm sea, cloudy skies, bright sunlight with joyfully impressionistic panache. The unpredictability of splashing, crashing waves in Struggle is the Source of Power 1 creates a dynamic ‘Kodak’ moment as ‘snapped’ by Pascale with physical and emotional precision.  

Pascale Rentsch, 'Struggle is the Source of Power 1', mixed media on paper
Pascale Rentsch, ‘Struggle is the Source of Power 1’, mixed media on paper

Adam Bruce Thomson (1885-1996) studied at the ECA, later teaching there for 40 years and throughout his life was a prolific painter of landscapes around Edinburgh, Berwickshire, the Borders, South-West, Highlands and Hebrides. His cool, mannered realism (sharing characteristics with Sir William Gillies and James McIntosh Patrick), portrays the unchanging, timeless tranquility of rural life – farm fields, rolling hills, country roads and meandering rivers. A charming oil painting, Through the Wood (c. 1950) is like a picture from a book of fairy tales, leading the eye along the path towards an avenue of autumnal trees.   

Adam Bruce Thomson, 'Through the Wood', oil on board
Adam Bruce Thomson, ‘Through the Wood’, oil on board

A major centrepiece of the show is the sculptures by Andrea Geile, known for her interpretation of nature and ecology through art. Her man-made trees, hand-cut and welded from corten steel, a weatherproof material, are based on intricate shapes and lace-like patterns; akin to paper cut-outs easily snipped with scissors, these are majestic life-size industrial steel structures. 

A collection of 38 sculpted trees and shrubs are displayed around the Gallery and in the pretty garden; here the rusty red-coloured hard materials contrast with the lush green plants and fragile summer flowers. Her organic and architectural forms merge with a natural botanical world to create imaginative landscaped Garden Art with a symbiotic relationship. 

Andrea Geile, 'In the Gloaming' (rear) and other trees, corten steel, industrial steel
Andrea Geile, ‘In the Gloaming’ (rear) and other trees, corten steel, industrial steel
Andrea Geile with her Corten steel garden art
Andrea Geile with her Corten steel garden art

After touring the garden, take a look at the collection of jewellery and ceramics in the ground floor gallery. Jill Fanshawe Kato has designed a collection of stoneware bowls decorated with leaves, hare and bird, complementing the Amongst the Trees theme. Stoneware is a type of ceramic fired at high temperature for non-porous, watertight and durable kitchenware. Kato studied pottery in Japan and regards her work as sitting somewhere between sculpture and painting inspired by nature: ‘Working in clay is a kind of alchemy. I like the unpredictable results of fuel-burning kilns.’ 

Jill Fanshawe Kato, selection of stoneware
Jill Fanshawe Kato, selection of stoneware

With thanks to Vivien Devin for this review.

Share this page

Sign up for Artmag’s free weekly newsletter!

Join us every Friday morning for the latest art news, art openings, exhibitions, live performances, interviews and stories + top UK and international art destinations.