A new documentary looking at the work of Scots artist James Morrison is being shown on television this week.
Eye of the Storm is a beautiful, inventive and poignant portrait of an artist, who in his latter years faced, for what for him would be, the cruellest frailty of age as his eyesight faded.
Widely regarded as one of the best of Britain’s contemporary landscape artists, with work hanging in the homes of JK Rowling and the Royal family, James Morrison, who died last autumn, is not however an instantly recognised name in the public sphere.
Yet his amazing landscapes are captivating, capturing the stormy seas and skies of his native Scotland as well as scenes from countries ranging from Africa to Canada, from France to Greenland…
Largely painted outside in ‘the eye of the storm’ even as James Morrison went into his eighties.
The documentary has been crafted by award-winning film-maker Anthony Baxter, who also recently made Flint – the story of water pollution affecting citizens of Flint, in Michigan – and in 2011 the acclaimed You’ve Been Trumped.
Having met up in Montrose, the Scottish town in which they both lived, Anthony began filming with James Morrison two years ago after he had turned 85 and undergone difficult operations which had taken their own toll.
As Morrison begins painting again, he is particularly troubled by the fact that – on doctor’s orders – he can’t paint outside. And is preparing for his latest exhibition in his studio, with a battery of eye glasses in a bid to see as he creates his latest work.
As he paints and talks, his life’s work is also illustrated in the documentary by archive film Baxter uncovered in the BBC Scotland archives and by illustrator Catriona Black, who animates and brings to life earlier work, which includes studies of tenements in Glasgow, Morrison’s home town, where his father had toiled as a pipefitter in the shipyards.
As the film – and Morrison’s own artistic journey – draws to a close, there is a final moment of poignant triumph in Edinburgh…just a short time ahead of the first case of COVID in the UK.
‘Jim Morrison is a national treasure,’ says the Scottish Gallery’s director Guy Peploe, as he opens what will be Morrison’s last solo exhibition. Peploe tells those gathered that he isn’t sure the artist, now very frail, will be able to make the event.
But then the artist does arrive, in a wheelchair guided by his daughter Judith. As a smiling James Morrison greets his great grandson, and a host of admirers, he learns that one of his final paintings – Dark Landscape – has already sold. James Morrison, the artist, would pass away a few months later, on 31 August 2020, at the age of 88.
A production by Montrose Pictures, Eye of the Storm – which was commissioned by BBC Scotland – was recently shown to acclaim in a recent digital screening for the Glasgow Film Festival.
Eye of the Storm will also be shown on Tuesday 30 March on BBC Scotland, from 10-11pm, and on BBC Two on Sunday April 4 at 9pm.