James Morrison was one of Britain’s first landscape artists and one of Scotland’s most accomplished. The Royal family, as well as J.K. Rowling, own several of his paintings. In the poignant and lyrical documentary Eye of the Storm, filmmaker Anthony Baxter follows Morrison for two years, as the artist’s eyesight gradually dissipates. “One of the things that I’m always chasing is light,” Morrison says, as his light fades away.
Morrison was known for jumping from medium to medium, from abstract oil-on-canvas to beautiful watercolors. His career began with gloomy paintings of Glasgow tenements, but there’s a warmth, a vibrancy that’s palpable even in darkness. Morrison then became a teacher at an art college. “If I could do anything at all in teaching, it would be to show that there are no limits,” he’s captured saying in an archival shot. He would be “out in all weathers,” painting away, finding both solace and death in nature’s impassioned gaze. He even went to Greenland to paint one of the last untouched landscapes on Earth.
“…Baxter follows Morrison for two years, as the artist’s eyesight gradually dissipates.”
Eye of the Storm traces the painter’s life, leading up to his 25th exhibition, and, ultimately, captures the man’s death on August 31, 2020. Baxter comes close to matching the vividness of his subject’s paintings with sumptuous cinematography of England’s shores, fields, neighborhoods, both sordid and beautiful. He cunningly utilizes animation so that it becomes a seamless piece of this visual portrait.
The film sidetracks into compelling stories, such as the one about Morrison’s fellow Scottish painter who died too young. An adoring peer fervently delves into his art. Morrison’s son compares him to painters like Claude Lorraine. However, the most fascinating bits come from the man himself, sitting in his studio, reminiscing wistfully. He speaks softly, lovingly talking about his brushes, describing landscapes as alive, possessing identities. The artist is a wonderful narrator. Observing his struggles – such as having to use a variety of glasses to paint – is deeply heartbreaking.
Baxter’s documentary is about understanding your culture through painting. It’s about change, whether it’s physical, personal, cultural, climate, or a combination of any of them. Eye of the Storm paints a great portrait of Morrison and is a fantastic testament to the power of art.
"…a fantastic testament to the power of art."