Eye of the Storm

 

 

 

Personal recollections add weight to this view of an artist's life.

 
Eye of the Storm

 

Anthony Baxter is a documentarist best known for political films and in particular for works looking askance at the doings of Donald Trump in Scotland. Now, however, still continuing his collaboration with his regular writing partner Richard Phinney, he turns to a very different subject. Nevertheless, he remains on home ground since his subject is the artist James Morrison, a noted Scottish watercolorist who settled in Montrose which is also home to Anthony Baxter. Morrison died in August 2020 at the age of 88 but now has a fine memorial in this documentary which Baxter made over the last two years of the painter's life.

 

In most respects this is a conventional documentary biopic. It may start with preparations for a solo exhibition at The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh in January of 2020, but before long it is looking back at Morrison's life and career in chronological order. This is all the more valuable because, despite seriously failing eyesight, Morrison himself is central here and a very engaging guide to his own work while commenting also on his view of how art functions. His paintings certainly impress and, if the landscapes he chose to paint are largely Scottish ones, he also did notable work on trips to the Arctic Circle. Baxter is for the most part his own cameraman and it is to his credit that the film's photography of Angus is so striking in its own right.

 

Baxter's sympathetic approach extends to an adroit atmospheric use of music including songs by Karine Polwart but I am not so happy over his decision to incorporate animation by Catriona Black. It's acceptable enough as a way of illustrating Morrison's descriptions of his journeying to and in the Arctic, but when it comes to adding figures, however briefly, to the actual paintings it feels misjudged. It can also be said that a little more information about Morrison's family would have been welcome. A son, John, does make an appearance but not at any length and we see even less of his daughter. However, tribute is paid by Morrison to his late wife, Dorothy, who predeceased him by fifteen years or so and there is a telling moment in which he describes one of his paintings from that period as being an expression of grief even though at first glance it might seem simply another landscape. 

 

An old friend, Denis Rice, comes over well, not least when arguing with the painter about the spiritual quality that he finds in his work regardless of the artist's very different beliefs. Indeed, this is a good straightforward film which gains a lot from having been made when Morrison was able to contribute so much to it: his admiring comments about a fellow painter who died young, Joan Eardley, are admirably warmhearted and all the more striking because Morrison deliberately chose not to follow her style but to go his own way. Where that way led is valuably recorded here and is likely to attract many new admirers to an artist who deserves to be known well beyond the borders of the country which most inspired him.

  

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  James Morrison, Denis Rice, John Morrison, Christina Jansen, Guy Peploe, Ann Keddie, Catrina Black, Philip Braham.

                                                                                                                

Dir Anthony Baxter, Pro Anthony Baxter and Richard Phinney, Screenplay Anthony Baxter and Richard Phinney, Ph Anthony Baxter, Ed Anthony Baxter, Music Dominic Glynn.

 

Montrose Pictures-Cosmic Cat.
78 mins. UK. 2021. Rel: 5 March 2021. Available on virtual theatrical release. No Cert.