Jenny Cathcart attends an exhibition by the Fermanagh landscape artist and slips upstairs for a chat with the lady herself
Twice a year in June and November, Fermanagh artist Frances Morris invites friends and fans to view her latest work at the Market House in Enniskillen’s Buttermarket.
There is a congenial atmosphere in the studio/gallery as Frances welcomes visitors with a glass of Italian wine and subliminaly seductive French songs. On show are Landscapes, a set of recently completed paintings of locations in France and Ireland.
The one which catches my eye has a pleasing matt quality. The colours are fresh, a smooth tapestry of tweedy purple, green and golden yellow. It‘s called 'Hills of Donegal' and it seems to mark something of a breakthrough for the artist, a confident new style of painting. Indeed this is the most expensive piece in the room.
Alongside it, ‘The Mournes’ already has a red sold sticker on the label: stone walls dominate the foreground and the famous mountains roll into the distance.
Two visitors from Derry are admiring a series of summer scenes in rural Provence – rows of dark green cypress trees, fields of red poppies, lavender so lush you can almost smell its heady perfume. A lady from Leitrim who purchased a painting here a few years back is wondering if she will find another that will please her just as much.
In ‘The Forest Floor’ are ragged robins and wild orchids. ‘Bogland with Rushes’ brings us down to earth with raw rushes and dark brown peat topped with fluffy white bog cotton and the floating ‘Waterlillies’ brings a sense of calm to Morris's gallery/shop here in the Buttermarket in Enniskillen.
I sneak upstairs to see the work for sale outside of the exhibition. A series of stylised interiors entitled ‘Through the Looking Glass’ lead us into an Alice in Wonderland world of elegant private drawing rooms with richly patterned carpets, soft velvet chairs, a gilded clock on the mantelpiece, a cat curled up on the hearth rug. Here too are a set of brilliantly bright photographs and paintings of Venice, the city which Frances visits every year and which she describes as 'the most wonderful place in the world'.
Frances Morris was born right next to the Buttermarket, a stone’s throw from the Town Hall, in a terraced house in Water Street. Her mother was a dressmaker whose work inspired Morris’s dreams of becoming a dress designer and stimulated her love of colour and pattern.
As a child she was already winning prizes for her watercolours and then became a student at the Belfast College of Art where her favourite teacher was John Luke, who spotted her talent for life drawing.
Morris specialised in ceramics and textile design before becoming a 'proper artist', concentrating on landscapes painted in her preferred medium, acrylic on canvas.
She takes photographs on location then returns to her studio. 'I start to enjoy it when the composition works and I can get down to the detail,' she explains. Showing a particular flair for marketing, Morris staged a solo exhibition at the First Trust Bank in Park Avenue in New York in 2001 where buyers included the director of Tiffany's.
Each November she exhibits at the annual Art Ireland fair in Dublin. Six of her paintings hang in the dining room of the city’s Merrion Hotel. 'You have to put yourself out to make a success of it these days, though now people come to me,' says Morris. 'I’m proud to say I have never been so happy with my work as I am now.'
The exhibition continues through the summer. More examples of Frances Morris' work can be seen on her website.