Publication: The Times.
James Morrison: Decades
The Scottish Gallery
UNTIL 23 JANUARY
STAR RATING: *** (THREE)
The painter, James Morrison, who was born in Glasgow 1932 and studied at the city’s School of Art, later joined the teaching staff at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee while in his early thirties. He held a position there until 1987, influencing generations of students.
Morrison has held a number of major exhibitions in recent years – these venues have included the Kinblethmont Gallery near Arbroath and The Fleming Collection in London. Much earlier, Richard Demarco was quick to spot his talent, mounting solo exhibitions of Morrison’s work in 1968 and 1969. His relationship with the present venue extends back to 1959 and the earliest days of the painter’s career.
Morrison has long been fascinated by landscape, in particular that of Scotland. But his range is greater than is often supposed. In 1995 he showed a major body of work devoted to the Arctic landscape and a show in Montrose in 2015 dealt with the artist’s response to his family’s connection with the First World War.
Over sixty years Morrison’s art has evolved, slowly, deliberately, eschewing fashion and trends. This aptly named show surveys his work, with examples from various points in Morrison’s career, beginning with Landscape, Angus from 1965. This small oil-on-board study is thickly painted in bold brush-strokes, which break down the landscape into a semi-abstract arrangement of form, tone and colour.
The countryside of Angus, around Montrose and Strathmore, has remained a constant in Morrison’s oeuvre. Some of the most recent work here, such as Dunes at Lunan, Strathmore, The Sheltering Sky and To the North, also dwell on the Angus landscape.
Although Morrison acknowledges the human impact on the land (there are the occasional steadings, telegraph poles, fences and, more frequently, arable land) this is never his focus. He has long specialised in what might be termed skyscape, because like John Constable, Morrison looks upward, wondering at the ever-constant play of wind, moisture, and light. His paintings, for a long time, developed en plein air, are essays in capturing the unobtainable, that fleeting moment of wonder, where beauty is before us and is what we wish to grasp, but cannot.
Morrison will often shift his horizon, from mid-point in his composition, to a much lower level, and, in some cases, it will almost disappear from the ‘frame’ of the artist’s eye. This clearly signifies the locus of Morrison’s interest. Whereas a nephrologist may be able to identify the clouds in question (as was the case with Constable), another reading may step into the realms of metaphor.
For Morrison there is something abstract, ineffable, soulful and ultimately transcendent about such imagery.