Eye of the Storm: From Donald Trump to James Morrison for Anthony Baxter

IF Donald Trump was ever to sit down and write out a list of his enemies, Scottish director Anthony Baxter probably wouldn’t have to look too far through the volume to find his name. 

Few have left a mark on the 45th president of America quite like Baxter, who, in his You’ve Been Trumped series of films, shone the spotlight firmly on the businessman’s bid to open a luxury golf course in Scotland

Having been called out, insulted and faced with years of legal wrangling against Trump just to release his movies in the first place, it’s a badge of honour the filmmaker wears proudly. 

READ MORE: Glasgow Film Festival chief on diversity in movies and future of cinemas

Now he’s back – and the subject of his latest documentary could not be more different to that of the former president. 

His new film, Eye Of The Storm, charts the final two years of little-known but much-loved Glasgow-born painter James Morrison as he tries to complete one last work while battling against his fading eyesight. 

A landscape artist who captured the city’s fading past and some of the world’s most beautiful spots, his paintings are adored by JK Rowling and adorn the walls of royalty. Yet, unlike Trump, he was never one to look for the limelight. 

“I didn’t really know much about James Morrison,” says Baxter. “He was kind of a celebrity artist but never enjoyed the limelight. When I met him, I was struck by his approach.

Glasgow Times: Baxter, right, during during an interview with Donald Trump Baxter, right, during during an interview with Donald Trump

“He never made much of his incredible achievements. Hearing his stories – whether it was his time at Glasgow School of Art or painting the tenements in Glasgow – was all fascinating to me.

“I felt he was the perfect subject because he was willing to be filmed – which always helps – and he was willing to share with me the difficult period of his life when he was beginning to paint again despite his fading eyesight.” 

Unfortunately, Morrison passed away in August last year at the age of 89 before the film was finished. 

“He allowed me to follow him in what turned out to be the last chapter of his life, although I didn’t know that at the time,” Baxter continues. 

“There’s an intimacy you get when filming with somebody closely over a period of time.

“I could tell that stage of his life was very tough to go back to painting but he was a very brave man and determined to continue with his work.

“It was a real privilege. 

Glasgow Times:

“All of us will know that feeling of hearing an elderly relative telling a story and will say: ‘Gosh, one of us must write that down or record it’.

“In a way, I was in a position to be able to do that and capture James’s stories.” 

The son of a shipyard pipefitter, Morrison entered the Glasgow School of Art in 1950 and quickly became smitten by landscapes. 

Baxter adds: “The man James Morrison is someone people will enjoy getting to know, especially for those who don’t know a lot about him.

“I met him because of my film You’ve Been Trumped and what struck him was the land that was being destroyed by Trump’s bulldozers – it struck a chord with him. 

“He himself had painted landscapes under threat and in a way he unwittingly documented those kind of things.”

In the film, as he begins painting again, he is particularly troubled by the fact that – on doctor’s orders – he can’t paint outside. After all, his lifelong compulsion to paint what he saw took him around the world, from Africa to Paris and even Greenland. 

Glasgow Times:

“He made an incredible journey to the Arctic and documented one of the last landscapes untouched by man,” Baxter says. “He had all kind of things happening to him. Whether it was an encounter with a polar bear or his struggle to get his canvases safely from Montrose to the Arctic. 

“He really was a pioneer and you can imagine painting in those subzero temperatures.

He always painted outside and never worked from photographs.” 

Pivotal moments in Morrison’s career are also brought to life by Scottish animator Catriona Black. 

“It’s using a contemporary artist to help tell James’s story,” Baxter says. “He found it quite therapeutic in a way to be able to talk about his life and to engage. It’s fascinating to watch him doing his work.

“People enjoy watching how people make records or cook food but an artist painting is something you rarely see.

“You get a sense of how he works and it’s an insight into a man and a life which is rare.”

The Glasgow Film Festival begins on Thursday, February 26, and tickets can be bought via the glasgowfilm.org website, or directly at https://glasgowfilm.org/glasgow-film-festival/visiting-the-festival/tickets

Glasgow Times | What’s On Glasgow