Eye Of The Storm

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Eye Of The Storm
"Morrison's work was created without prejudice and finds the same beauty in soot-stained stone as in stormy skies, if one is ready to see it. Director Anthony Baxter endeavours to take the same approach with this documentary." | Photo: Montrose Pictures/Courtesy of Glasgow Film Festival

Most artists, whatever the media in which they work, try to do two things: to perceive something in the world and to say something about it. James Morrison never cared much for the latter. There was something more journalistic about his work, in the old sense: he tried simply to tell the truth about what he saw. Like the very best journalists, however, he achieved something elevated because, in his dedication to the truth, he revealed something deeply honest about himself.

Morrison is best known for his landscapes, especially those captured along Scotland's north east coast near Montrose, where he made his home. He was born in Glasgow, however, and his early work shows the same approach to tenement views - less popular with wealthy people who want to decorate their walls but equally important to capturing Scotland's story. Morrison's work was created without prejudice and finds the same beauty in soot-stained stone as in stormy skies, if one is ready to see it. Director Anthony Baxter endeavours to take the same approach with this documentary.

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At the point when the film was being made, Morrison was able to see less and less, his eyesight gradually failing. He would go on to die at the age of 88, shortly before production was completed. In between, he would continue to paint, though uncertain that the finished results would meet his standards, and Baxter captures that process. He also provides the painter with an opportunity to discourse on his life, the development of his work, and the inspiration he found in his beloved wife Dorothy, who died some years before.

Morrison wasn't simply a chronicler of landscape but a part of it, often to be found out with his easel in all weathers, in the wildest of places. Skilfully blending his own work with archive footage, Baxter captures him at work like this, and also visits the locations of some of his most famous paintings, letting the viewer compare what they can see on film with what the artist saw. It isn't possible to do this with fresh footage for every painting however, even in the case of his later work. We visit a gallery to see an exhibition of his paintings of the arctic, but the ice as he saw it no longer exists. In his lifetimes Morrison attracted criticism for what some saw as a old fashioned approach, capturing landscapes that had inspired other painters down the centuries; yet these environmental changes act as a reminder of the ephemerality of all Earthly places, and of the importance of art as a token of memory.

Quiet but astute and with a deep understanding of what he was seeking in his work, Morrison was a naturally engaging subject and if you have any interest in art at all, he will easily hold your attention for the duration of this film. Watching him at work, one is struck by the sensuality of his contact with the canvas, the instinctive nature of his painting. He was intensely detailed-orientated and passionate about colour, which he saw in every corner of Scotland. This is a valuable record of a man whose legacy will long outlive him.

Reviewed on: 02 Mar 2021
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Eye Of The Storm packshot
A documentary about one of Scotland’s most gifted painters, James Morrison.

Director: Anthony Baxter

Starring: James Morrison

Year: 2021

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: UK

Festivals:

Glasgow 2021

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