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The 12:1 Gallery

01 June 2022

The 12:1 Gallery

In preparation for James Morrison A Celebration (1932 – 2020) we worked very closely with James Morrison’s family. They have given us a personal archive of paintings, sketchbooks, medals, materials and the 12:1 Gallery which are on display in our downstairs gallery space.

The 12 : 1 Gallery was commissioned as a surprise by my father for my mother’s birthday in February in 1987. She already had a regular dolls’ house that she had meticulously decorated and furnished, and Dad had made a couple of little pictures for it which I think must have sparked his idea for the gallery. He commissioned some colleagues at Duncan of Jordanstone art college, where he taught, to make it and he also invited friends the Academy and the art world to contribute, collecting their pictures secretly.

Mum was completely thrilled, and she absolutely treasured it. She hung all the pictures and displayed the ceramics and sculpture and sourced paint brushes, furniture and a palette herself. She made all the little books of visitors, sales, newspaper cuttings etc. I think it was after this they decided to have an ‘opening’ with all the contributors invited to a party. Mum had the opening invitations and tiny posters printed. Each was paid for their contribution to the gallery with a bottle of ‘Chateau Montrose’ claret. The tiny packing crate was brought to the party by Stan Clement-Smith with his contribution - which is still inside. I hope other people enjoy seeing it. It was only when I was packing it up and sorting it out I really looked closely at the paintings. It is just charming, and I am thrilled to have it - though I feel a great deal of responsibility for it.

The 12:1 Gallery by John Morrison, James Morrison’s son

In 1987 Bob Findlay built the 12:1 scale Gallery in Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art on the Perth Road in Dundee. The gallery is very much a reflection of the life of the man it was made for, James Morrison. He commissioned it to give to his wife Dorothy and it is filled with the work of his contemporaries in the RSA, the RSW and the RGIFA; his friends in Scotland and beyond, his ex-students from Duncan of Jordanstone. In one sense it is a who’s who of James’s generation but there are works from many others in a wide-ranging and delightfully eclectic collection. The artworks are all originals. And what is remarkable is how often they are clearly identifiable as quintessential works by their creators. There is a delightful Alberto Morrocco of a girl seated at a table with a watermelon and a bowl of fruit. It looks as if it came straight out of one of the artist’s Edinburgh Festival exhibitions of the late 1980s/ early 1990s. Likewise, there is a luminous David McClure still life and a Robin Phillipson back view of a female nude, a witty David Donaldson sketch of an artist in a landscape, a Will Mclean fishing boat and a whole suite of Barbara Balmer’s including a portrait and two charming still lives. All of these are unmistakeable and all of them reflect the sheer fun of making things on this scale and for this company. There are a number of subjects personal to James. There is a portrait of him in an orange smock by the illustrator and Dundee colleague Ron Stenberg. Among many paintings by James in the gallery there is a portrait of the artist’s wife and a painter friend in Montrose painted a jewel-like landscape including Craigview, James’s home. A set of three tiny wood-engravings by the painter’s daughter-in-law Alyson MacNeill hang on the wall with more in the print rack that stands on the floor.

Interiors of The Scottish Gallery at Castle Street (left) and George Street (right).

The gallery was made just at the time James resigned from the art school in 1987. One of the projects he immediately undertook was to make a series of television programmes on contemporary Scottish artists. One of those featured was the printmaker Willie Rodger and there is a print by him. Former students are also represented with a sleeping female figure by Louise Johnstone and a monotone landscape by David Motion. Colleagues from Dundee are very well represented both from the painting school and further afield. There is work by the sculptor Gary Fisher, the jeweller Roger Morris, the printed textile designers Norma Starzakowna and Andy Taylor, the head of the college Myer Lacome and others. A work by Stan Clement-Smith, another Dundee colleague, arrived in its own wooden packing crate complete with stencilled label and ‘distress’ suffered in transit. Not all the works in the gallery date from its inception and James’s wife Dorothy continued to add to the collection and to stage new exhibitions over the next 15 years. After leaving the College James started painting in the Canadian High Arctic. There is a small arctic painting of his hanging. The opportunity to work in the arctic in part developed from working in Saskatoon with the celebrated Canadian landscape painter David Alexander. David later visited Scotland and painted with James in Angus and Assynt. There is a work by him in the collection, as there is by the Parisian architect and long-time friend Emile Deschler. The latter work was gifted to Dorothy by Emile when he stayed at Craigview during an exhibition he held in Scotland at James’s instigation.

James Morrison was one of The Gallery’s longest serving exhibiting artists (1959-2020). Please see James Morrison A Celebration (1932-2020).

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