James Morrison: A Celebration – The Scottish Gallery

Exhibition Hosted by The Scottish Gallery

A maestro of the commanding Grey skies, a Scottish artist, a city boy who had a grasp of landscape enviable to those in the field – it has been two years since the passing of James Morrison, and the Scottish art community continues reeling from the loss.

Morrison saw these landscapes through mortal eyes – the fishing boats dotted on the shores, or the gulls in the distance were usually, if not always, aspects from Morrisons’ own eyes, and rarely additional elements added to later re-drafts. Morrison was notorious for his usual refusal to work later in the studio and instead utilised the alla prima (wet upon wet) and other fieldwork methods. Just consult his earliest works downstairs in the gallery – the Glasgow he knew, the tenements and scarcity of pasture shades of green, at least of the non-industrial variety. To see the decay of the city at a young age, the words and poetry are often attributed to Morrison’s works through the brushstroke. But of course, this is only the beginning.

There’s an evident flow through the Gallery, encouraging visitors to begin their journey below the ‘main’ gallery hall, and instead visit the more immersive selection of pieces and contributions from the family archive. Nestled within building blocks, a taste for the mathematical, these early leaning bricks, geometrical blocks interlocking, serve as an additional gateway to Morrison’s artistic process, one which captured the rawness of the landscape, but the quintessential lateral process and control in his brushwork.

Encouraging to see, it’s a pleasant surprise to locate aspects of an artist’s life that, though remaining a part of the journey, carry a rarely demonstrated ‘fun’ dimension to the exhibit and away from the more professional side. None quite so obvious as that of a rather famous America mouse, or the smaller artworks with a more traditional aspect of detail than Morrison’s more contemporary works.

But there is, of course, the inevitable. The brushes and paint samples, sitting ready, awaiting their duty for prospective artists. There’s a profound understanding within the Gallery of Morrison’s grasp of the necessity for paintings to be seen, to be viewed, and not merely replicated. As such, not only will visitors find iconography and tributes, but an enriched trove of memorabilia, lecture notes, clippings and catalogues – particularly the pieces and photography of his Arctic experiences, leading to some of his most noted, and the Galleries central pieces.

And despite the urge to find a singular point and walk around the gallery, we implore visitors to reverse their movements upon completion, to retrace their steps (even back downstairs) to value the evolution and journey of land, the sea and finally into the air which Morrison masterfully commanded. Few Scottish artists comprehend, and indeed respect, the landscape and terrain as Morrison, who succeeds exceptionally where others fail in merging the boundaries between the landmass, ensuring each aspect of his work, flows into the next, never snatching focus, but leading the viewer through the painting.

Noted for its light, predominantly on a pleasant day, the Scottish Gallery benefits from the similar tones located in many of Morrisons’ works: from ‘Finally, Summer’ to ‘Islands Against the Distant Shore’, where the mottled greys conceal a more diverse nature of blues, whites and yes, even those reds and purples than at first glance. Exhibiting this paradigm of colour, in works associated with the dour Scottish Sky, The Scottish Gallery allows visitors to discover the depth of palette in Morrisons’ work – with a few key pieces a veritable maelstrom of tone and warmth in the unlikeliest of place.

Tucked in a corner, a remarkably engaging piece somewhat hidden in shade, enhancing the crimson and shadow aspects of the portrait, ‘Sunset’ is an easy work to lose oneself within, situated in a more traditional expanse of landscape portraits with an emphasis on the aerial. But for many, as enrapturing as the rawness of Morrisons’ Beech Tree may be, and indeed one of the first spotted in the Gallery, tuck your head around to the dimly lit back studio space where the regal, and awe-inspiring might of his Arctic pieces are housed. Various writings, catalogues and other written memorabilia demonstrate the scale with which Morrison worked – both in terms of landmass, and in physical frame.

Visitors seeking an additional medium of the exhibition are advised to attend The Edinburgh Filmhouse, which houses a special screening of Eye of the Storm, followed by a Q&A on Sunday, June 19th. Produced by Anthony Baxter, the film is a triumph of Morrison’s life and experience, a fine example of cinematic documentaries concerning artists’ lives – as the renowned Morrison struggles with the loss of his sight, in a poignant account of the creative mind battling physical frailties. 

In an exemplary and beguiling manner to appreciate Morrison’s pieces, The Scottish Gallery’s exhibition frames Morrisons’ life through the dusted Glasgow tenements and lush farmlands to the explosive freedom in capturing the frenzies of the Assynt skies and beyond to the South of France and Botswana – the life of James ‘Jim’ Morrison is one our nation acknowledges, but infrequently takes deserved pride.

James Morrison: A Celebration runs at The Scottish Gallery until June 25th.

Further information relating to the exhibition may be found here.

For details related to the Edinburgh Filmhouse screening of Eye of the Storm – please check their website here.

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