Our next Artist You Need To Know is someone who has been described by Keith Hartley, a past senior curator of the National Galleries of Scotland, as offering something “like a manifesto: I don’t want to do paintings for Edinburgh drawing rooms, I want to do something which moves people, about ordinary people’s lives. It was very much a protest…what he was doing in the mid-1960s in many ways changed the course of Scottish painting.”
He’s speaking of John Bellany (1942 – 2013) an incredibly influential Scottish painter who is acknowledged as ‘pioneering a style of painting that melded the influences of Impressionism with Naive painting, Bellany’s work explored endemically Scottish symbolism and histories.’ Bellany’s work melds the recognizable with a vision that is unique, sometimes uncomfortable (as with his many self portraits) but also very engaging, with a play of the absurd and the immediate. Bellany’s works are unique, marked by what has been called a “vigorous—at times rather tormented—Expressionist style. He was born and brought up in a fishing village near Edinburgh, and the imagery of his work is often derived from the sea, although it is transformed into a kind of personal mythology” (from artuk.org. This is also a fine site to visit, to see even more of Bellany’s works than we’re sharing here).
Bellany studied at the Edinburgh College of Art at the University of Edinburgh in the early 1960s, but he was also influenced by contemporaries, such as Alan Davie (who was featured in an earlier AIH Artist You Need To Know post). His paintings are almost exclusively based upon – while challenging – the figure, but many intersecting themes (Christianity, maritime painting, and the rich history of the female figure as muse and motif) inform his work. Paintings by Bellany can be found in the MoMA The Museum of Modern Art, the Tate in London, the National Portrait Gallery in London, and many others. He died at 71, after a long illness – which he documented, sometimes with coarseness, sometimes with sentiment, in many of his finest works.
The National Gallery of Scotland held a major exhibition of his work, “John Bellany: A Passion for Life”, shortly after his death, in 2013. It is worth noting that even someone of such contested ideas as Damien Hirst spoke of Bellany as one of the most significant painters of the 20th century.