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'Celebrity artists are killing the art
of landscape painting'
Columnist: The Times
Filed 30 Sep 08
This article was originally published in The Times on 24th September 2008.
It is reproduced here with the kind permission of its author and of the newspaper.
They may be the best known names in the brassy world of Brit Art, but the cult of celebrity that surrounds Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst is threatening to destroy a much older artistic tradition, that of landscape painting - so says Scotland's best known contemporary landscape painter.
John Lowrie Morrison, whose own prolific output ensures that he earns about £2million a year from the sale of his original works, said that drawing and landscape painting was no longer taken seriously by Scottish art schools. Instead, colleges were in thrall to conceptual art, epitomised by Hirst's jewel-encrusted skull and Emin's unmade bed.
“It's about making a name for yourself, about celebrity; it's not about art. But in 20 years time, none of that will be looked upon as good art,” said Mr Morrison, who is best known by his signature, ‘Jolomo'.
He singled out Emin's installation, It's Not the Way I Want to Die, a representation of the roller coaster at Margate, for particular criticism.
“Her work will not stand the test of time. The thing in the National Gallery of Modern Art just now - a pile of wood against a wall? I don't see anything in that. It does not excite me in any way. It doesn't even make me angry.
“A lot people don't want to be seen to be uncool. So they won't say anything bad, but a lot of the time this stuff is rubbish,” the artist said.
Morrison was speaking in National Gallery of Scotland on the Mound, where he was launching the second Jolomo awards, which offer a £20,000 first prize to the best young emerging landscape artist in Scotland.
The awards are designed not only to encourage young painters but also to open debate about how art is being taught at degree level. Importantly, said Morrison, the awards would seek to address the fact that landscape painting was deliberately ignored by art schools.
A symbol of this was a former hostel and studio at Culzean Castle that had been maintained by Glasgow School of Art, from the mid 1960s to 1980s, but subsequently allowed to close.
The result of such indifference was now visible at degree shows where landscape painters were remarkable only for their absence, he said.
Morrison traced Scottish landscape painting back through 250 years, embracing artists such as Horatio McCulloch, the Glasgow Boys, and Joan Eardley.
“There is still landscape painting going on in Scotland, but for how long? My main concern is the dwindling group of painters,” he said.
Morrison's annual London show at the Air Gallery will sell 80 or more paintings in five days, with returns of about £200,000. Madonna, Sophia Loren and Sting are among his buyers.
A large proportion of these earnings is given to charity. Morrison and his wife, Maureen, are patrons of the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, and actively support public health schemes in Malawi and Zambia. A charitable trust, the Jolomo Foundation, backs the landscape painting awards.
The inaugural awards were held last year. The winner, Anna King, 24, from Kelso, said that the prize had “taken the pressure off” following her graduation from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, in Dundee.
Ms King is drawn to landscapes that have been abandoned by people. “I like being out in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “Whenever I'm out I will find something I want to paint - like an old building or an abandoned car park, with grass growing between the slabs.”