John Bellany’s: A Celtic Voyage
Cramped but impressive selection of works by Scottish artist
This article is from 2009.
Scottish painter John Bellany’s East Coast hometown of Port Seton, a small seafaring community where fishing was a way of life and Calvinism blew fear through the streets, informs the artist’s oeuvre. Fish, gannets, swans, playing cards and boats populate his colourful paintings: a series of symbols that comprise a wrought and vital personal iconography. Rooted in place, dream and experience, these repeated symbols nudge and jostle on his surfaces, and attend adoringly to the artist’s enduring interest in the sea, death and human desolation.
While the paintings in this exhibition are in desperate need of some breathing space – the gallery is cluttered by a group of distracting sculptures by other artists – the selection on show does manage to demonstrate Bellany’s technical diversity and great depth of subject matter. Angst-ridden paintings from the 1960s are juxtaposed with his later, less tumultuous works, and the presence of his masterful 1987 diptych ‘A Long Night’s Journey Into Day’ lifts this collection. Depicting a bedded or coffined couple surrounded by the provocative toys and tricks that reside over Bellany’s works, and swathed by the arching sail of fishing boat The Bethlehem Star, this dark and powerful painting stands sentry for all that Bellany’s practice has laid bare.
A selection of works completed this year proffers a new layer of interest to the artist’s seething collection. Watercolours and drawings, ‘Little Temptress’, ‘Fisherlass’, ‘Herring Queen’ and ‘Woman of the North Sea’, depict simple female forms and Bellany’s symbolic fish. Condensing previously explored traits of femaleness, these simple and suggestive works attest to the strength of Bellany’s continued practice.
Open Eye Gallery, 557 1020, until 1 Sep (not Sun), free.