James Morrison was one of Scotland's most popular artists, specialising in landscapes, not solely of Scotland, but of locations from around the world which he captured on his canvases, in watercolours or oils. But when filmmaker Anthony Baxter caught up with him, the painter was feeling the effects of his age as his eyesight was failing him, and he had been forced to give up the occupation that had given meaning to his life. However with a new exhibition opening in Edinburgh in 2020, interest in his work has never been higher, and he would love to paint even just a couple more pictures, so when he gets glasses that assist him in that vocation, he wastes no time in setting up in his studio and getting down to create...
Morrison was an artist who fell in and out of favour with the art establishment over the decades, at points he was regarded as a commercial artist on the level of Jack Vettriano, someone looked down on for churning out painting after painting with little variation in style, but at others Morrison was more lauded as a chronicler of the changing landscapes around the globe, especially as the effects of climate change began to make their presence felt. In that manner he was latterly treasured as a talent who understood the scenery and skies he portrayed in a rare, instinctual technique, his Arctic pictures, for instance, a fascinating account of what the places he painted back in the early nineties looked like, and looked like no longer.
Anthony Baxter, well, you may be forgiven for thinking all he did was follow Donald Trump around, but in between doing that, he had been busy with other subjects, and Morrison was one of them. In truth, in his late eighties when the documentarian caught up with him, he was obviously feeling the downside of his years, but he was still lucid and able to discuss his life and career in an engaging manner that made for a very relaxing watch. Never an artist to be wracked with terrible demons who urged him on to craft masterpieces, he was more unassuming and modest, happiest when he was out in a field somewhere - in all weathers - with his paints and something to apply them to. By this stage his outdoor activities were now over, but he did have his studio, and there was a Bob Ross tone to seeing him make his art one last time as he chatted away quietly.
There were others interviewed, all from the Scottish art world, and animator Catriona Black contributed some charming cartoons that both were in the spirit of Morrison, but also added a touch of humour to the piece, as well as a perspective that brought some already vivid imagery to life in an alternative fashion. Although there were many foreign trips mentioned in passing, his Arctic foray had the longest section devoted to it, ranging from the primitive conditions he lived in to get his paintings finished, to the spectacular sights he witnessed such as the aeroplane flight he took to reach the middle of nowhere, and the alarming tale of how he was nearly eaten by a polar bear (!) which certainly would be a counter-argument to the naysayers who criticised him over his existence. He said he was an agnostic, though some can see God in the natural world he painted, and if this does not fall on one side of that or the other, it was clear Morrison had a particular way of viewing the world that appealed to a great many followers. Music by Dominic Glynn.
[EYE OF THE STORM is released in virtual cinemas from 5th March 2021. Click here for more.]