People

Dramatic Painting

Amanda Brock talks to one of Scotland's hottest artists and his malt connections
By Amanda Brock
Did you ever practice your signature as a child, perfecting it in the hope that one day you’d be famous enough to use it?

John Lowrie Morrison did, coming up with his very own nom de plume – jolomo, taken from he first two letters of each of his three names. And now he’s doing just that –painting Scottish Highland landscapes under his adopted names and becoming one of Scotland’s best loved artists in the process.

Jolomo captures the Scottish Highlands in vivid colour in his dramatic oil paintings and has become renowned for painting the West Coast of Scotland. Having shown talent at school, Morrison studied art at Glasgow School of Art and in the ‘60s branched into teaching. He moved his wife, Maureen, his young family (three boys) and his brother, to Argyll. This was the area of Scotland of John’s childhood holidays and has been their home for the last 38 years.

John talks fondly of those holidays on the West Coast of Scotland. Holidaying in the country, from the city, invoked a sense of freedom for the young Morrison. 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 holidays and trips to Harris, Mull and the other 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.

Having spent so much time on the Islands its hardly surprising that John tells me that “I have always loved everything about whisky and it’s manufacture”.

“My cousin Murdo MacLeod of Portnalong on Skye used to work at Talisker distillery at Carbost and I was in the distillery many times. I loved the way Murdo lived. He had a croft, was a Harris tweed weaver, was the local roadman and worked at Talisker.”

Morrison says that it’s been great to paint for a living. He has painted full time for the last 14 years, following his successful career in eduction, which ended with the role of art adviser to Strathclyde Region. “I think there is a similarity between whisky manufacture and the way I work.

“Whisky is made slowly through a long process. I paint by building up layers of paint but this starts by drawing and photographing landscape and slowly gestating ideas. It’s a long process and the process has been going on since I was eight years old as it is all connected along the way – the bigger picture if you like.”

He explains how he picks up on man’s presence in the landscape he paints. You may notice a ladder left leaning against a croft. The very existence of the croft of course shows our human presence.

It’s not only crofts, Morrison has been known to paint, but other buildings in the landscape, lighthouses, churches and even distilleries.

Anyone who has seen John’s catalogues or is aware of the Jolomo Landscape Painting Awards will be aware that he has a tie in with Balblair distillery.

“I find distilleries extremely interesting places and the people who work in them” says Morrison.

“The owners of Balblair bought a large painting of their distillery from me. When I visited them I found the distillery at Edderton. It was a fantastic visit.”

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.

Not least of these human structures was Linlithgow 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 a princely sum.

Despite the fact that the classic Jolomo painting of a wee white cottage is much in demand, Morrison is not afraid to continue to experiment with his style. 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.

The changes in his paint 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”.

John’s taste in whisky may have been shaped by his cousin Murdo.

“I have always preferred peaty whisky such as Talisker or an Islay malt”.

But he acknowledges that his pallet for whisky, like that of his paintings has developed over time.
“As I have gotten older and my palette has changed, I prefer a lighter whisky. I love Balblair and another island whisky called Scapa.”

The luxury of good whisky is not the only benefit of Jolomo’s success. John is a philanthropist who is well known for his donations to charity and each year donating more than 40 paintings a year to a variety of charities’ events and auctions (his very own Angel’s share). As he says of his success, “that 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”.

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 United Kingdom.

Following on from the success of the initial Awards, The Jolomo Foundation conducted the second Awards, and one of the sponsors was the Balblair, which were presented in Glasgow in June 2009.

The launch of the next Jolomo Awards will be in September 2010.