Visual Art: Giles Sutherland
From Angus to the Artic
The Scottish Gallery
Until February 1
STAR RATING: **** (FOUR)
It difficult to fault the work of painter James Morrison, either aesthetically or technically. Even on the evidence of the some of his earlier work, dating back to the mid-60s, there is an assuredness and a conviction that demonstrates an artist in full command of his considerable gifts, and with a clear idea of what he wants to say and do.
Morrison, who was born in 1932, taught for many years as Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee and influenced generations of younger artists. He is clearly regarded with affection and great respect by one of them, Phillip Braham, himself a painter of some note, whose work is clearly indebted to the older artist. Braham has contributed an insightful and moving essay to the exhibition catalogue, and in considering one of Morrison’s more atypical works, Gentle River (2000), Braham writes “…it reveals something of the man who painted it and for whom painting flowed like the very river depicted here, gently but emphatically.”
Morrison nearly always works en plein air, which means that he is in direct physical contact with what he paints – the weather, light and general sense of place, all play a part in the construction of the works. This is as true for work painted in various parts of the arctic, as for parts of Angus, such as Strathmore and around the Montrose basin. Morrison shares this approach with a number of artists, not least the Impressionists who made the practice popular, but others, nearer to home, such as Joan Eardley, with whom his work has some affinity. It would be remiss not to mention the work of James McIntosh Patrick in this context, given that artist’s love of the same part of the country – as well as his meticulousness and technical skills – all of which he shares with Morrison.
Although many of Morrison’s landscapes are ‘edited’ by removing, say, pylons or telephone poles the essential truth of the landscape, rooted in deep and contemplative observation, is always to the fore. Species of trees are recognisable, as are buildings, and of course, locations.
Morrison is also a Romantic painter, given the moods in which he finds the skies and clouds that tend to proportionately dominate many his works; but then he is just as capable of focussing on a hedgerow, or clumps of trees, or the ploughed earth right in front of him.
This is Morrison’s twenty-fifth show with the Scottish Gallery and it’s easy to see why his work finds such an appreciative audience.