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Issue 50 - A life in colour

Scotland Magazine Issue 50
April 2010

 

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A life in colour

Amanda Brock interviews Jolomo for Scotland Magazine.

Having featured Jolomo as my number one artist painting the Scottish Landscape in the last edition of Scotland Magazine, I have been lucky enough to spend some time with John, interviewing him to celebrate the 50th edition of Scotland Magazine.

Jolomo is a mix of the first two letters of Morrison’s full name, John Lowrie Morrison, which Morrison came across as a child, doodling at Hyndland Secondary School, in Glasgow’s West End. We’ve all done it.

Practised a signature as a child, for use in later life when we are rich and famous. Except in Morrison’s case he really has had a use for that well practised signature.

Jolomo is of course one of the most recognisable names in the Scottish art scene today, being the nom-deplume of a sometimes prolific artist. Morrison probably sells more paintings each year than any other artist in Scotland and who has put his money where his mouth is, donating large amounts of his personal wealth to a Foundation which runs the “Jolomo Scottish Landscape Painting Awards”.

Morrison attributes his relatively hightoutput to the discipline of his years in teaching. “I work to a routine and am in the studio painting from I work from 8am till 3am in the Tayvallich Studio 8am till 6pm in the Mull studio daily. Many artists work in a less structured pattern” Having shown talent at School, Morrison studied art at Glasgow School of Art and in the 60s John branched into teaching. He moved his wife, Maureen, his young family and his brother to Argyll . As John’s brother had learning difficulties John and Maureen filled the role of carers for him until Murdo’s untimely death last Summer. This was the area of Scotland of John’s childhood holidays. He became principal teacher of Art in Lochgilphead High and over time an art adviser to Strathclyde Region.

John talks fondly to me, of his holidays on the West Coast of Scotland. Holidaying in the country, from a home in City came with a sense of freedom for the young Jolomo. He tells me how he and his elder brother spent many happy hours in the harbour at Tighnabruaich, watching the Waverley and other boats arrive and depart. Full of other happy Scots holidaying in Scotland!

His family have a croft in Kyles Isle of Harris, currently occupied by a Minister cousin of his, where John also spent time.

From these trips to Harris, Mull and the Islands John made his first ventures to Iona.

Iona has been the subject of many of Morrison’s paintings and the island, a very spiritual place, was for a while at least,almost synonymous with John’s work.

The West Coast has been home to Morrison and his family for 38 years, and with Scotland’s islands, have formed the base of his work. They have not been an entirely exclusive subject. In the last couple of years he has held two exhibitions at Duff House in Buchan (and a further is planned summer 2011) with a subject matter of Scotland’s east coast and an exhibition two years ago with paintings of France.

His forthcoming London one man exhibition, is the biggest exhibition of Morrison’s year. It is the 9th annual London exhibition and goes by the title of “A Hebridean Light”.

Perhaps its more apparent to me as a London Scot, coming back to Scotland, but Scotland has a big sky. It seems to go on forever. The “gloaming” as John refers to it, or twilight in that sky has lent itself to Morrison’s azure blue and many, many of his paintings are at that dusky time of day, when the birds are singing in the trees and the evening light is falling. The ubiquitous moon, out before its time, is also there. “I have always had an obsession with moons since I was 10 and have to stop myself painting them into every work” he admits.

Not only does John paint the landscape he sees there but explains that he picks up on man’s presence in that landscape. You may notice a ladder left against a croft. The very existence of the croft of course shows our human presence. Its not only crofts, as any collector will tell you, Morrison has been known to paint distilleries, lighthouses and of course churches.

John explains with some glee that he has always loved painting the less attractive parts of the Scottish landscape from school days to the present day and proceeds to list some of them “telephone poles; red phone boxes; red post boxes; ladders against a wall; broken gates; washing lines blowing in the wind; beached boats; lighthouses; etc. In a nutshell man’s imprint on the landscape!” Not least of these human structures was Linglithgow Palace, painted for Alex Salmond’s first Christmas card as First Minister. The painting had a very successful run as a charity print raising £25,000 in print sales and was eventually auctioned for charity for the princely sum of £10,000.

This is not for a moment to suggest that the natural habitat is missed. Morrison’s own Christmas card two years ago, included a horse in a snowy stable, and flocks of chicken and geese frequently run through the landscape of Jolomo paintings.

Travelling in Europe Morrison became influenced by the European Expressionists, Chagall, Soutine, Pascin, Nolde, Kokoschka, as well as the Scottish Colourists, who he had grown up with. John’s mother took him to the Kelvingrove gallery each Sunday as he was growing up.

Despite the fact that the classic Jolomo wee white cottage is much in demand, Morrison is not afraid to continue to experiment with his style. He may not be considered an avant garde painter by the art critics, but his technique continues to expand and develop.

In recent years, the style has become notably looser and a little more abstract.

He has not settled for a formula. It may not be immediately obvious, but take the time to look at the collection of anyone who has 10 years or more of Morrison’s work, as I am lucky enough to have, and you can see a marked difference.

Morrison has not only had books written about him but also features in a couple of DVDs, one of which “I know where I am going” is named after the movie of the same name, directed by Poweel Perssburgher in 1944.

John is a movie buff and this also happens to be one of his favourite movies. Despite the title, John tells me, “I don’t talk about where I am going – if you talk about it you won’t do it !” The changes in pallet are regular, and may sometimes reflect the mood of the artist, “my paintings are a kind of chiarascuro, colour versus dark (light and dark being an allegory of the human spirit)”.

Jolomo may be a kind and spiritual man, but he is human. His life has taken the twists and turns of all our paths and success may not always be a solace for that. There are periods of darker and lighter paintings which possibly reflect this – although the paintings are still in strong and bright colours.

Despite the long working days and huge popularity with the public, the art establishment have not always been kind to Morrison. It must be hard to face this.

“I don’t care about good crits or bad ones. I am a painter and that’s what I do. I have always been passionate about painting and Art in general and that’s what I focus on. If I worried about crits I wouldn’t do anything.!” The family is very involved in the business that is Jolomo. Maureen running the studio office, Simon making frames in our framemaking business. Pete and Kari also help doing the catalogues VAT and photographing cataloguing work.

For John, despite all of this support, its still extremely difficult to manage time for painting “as everyone wants a part of me”.

Part of this demand is of course down to this philanthropy. John tells me that his “non stop success has also meant being able to help people financially whether through charities, my Foundation or working with people in other countries like Zambia or Malawi”.

He gives around 40 paintings a year to various charities for auctions or other events as well as having his own Foundatin.

In 2005 John established The Jolomo Foundation, a charitable body aimed at promoting and encouraging the painting of the Scottish landscape.

Through The Foundation, the Jolomo Awards were launched in 2006 with the first Awards being made in June 2007. With a total prize pot of £30,000.00, the Awards are the largest privately funded arts award in the UK. Following on from the success of the initial Awards, The Jolomo Foundation launched the second Awards which were presented in Glasgow in June 2009.

The launch of the next Jolomo Awards will be in September 2010. For more information see www.jolomfoundation.org.

New work by the 2009 finalists will be exhibited for sale in London in September 2010, by Caledoniart.

A Hebridean Light, Jolomo’s ninth London one man exhibition will take place at the Air Gallery, 32 Dover Street, Mayfair, London W1S 4NE (nearest tube Green Park), from Monday 17 May to Saturday 22 May .