John Bellany at 70
Showcase of familiar images from the Port Seton artist
This article is from 2012.
John Bellany at 70 precedes the major retrospective of the Scottish painter’s work due to be held by the National Galleries of Scotland later this year, and showcases some of his more vibrant, powerful images and compositions that are now familiar fare.
Two rooms at the Open Eye, as well as the gallery’s main entrance hall, are filled with the brightly coloured, recognisable imagery through which Bellany captures the conflict and contradictions of the human condition: strange, distorted faces of women, their bodies displayed, provocative and bare-breasted, next to sinister, half-human creatures, while seascapes contain barely-there phallic symbolism, each painting portraying at once beauty and ugliness; vice and virtue; joy and sorrow; life and death.
Bellany’s deeply religious upbringing in Port Seton, as the son of a fisherman, is hinted at not only in his subject matter – the paintings that fill one wall in the exhibition, for example, ‘Bass Rock Fable’, flanked by ‘Eyemouth Harbour’ and ‘Gable Ends, Port Seton’ – but also through allusions in his work to spirituality, mythology, superstition and fate, such as the recurring symbol of playing cards, as well as awe at nature and its relationship to man’s mortality. Each of Bellany’s paintings is connected strongly to humanity, and specifically Bellany’s own life, and John Bellany at 70 demonstrates one aspect of this well, without becoming overly repetitive.
The exhibition concentrates mainly on Bellany’s work from the 1990s onwards, omitting the darker, more obviously sombre paintings of the 1960s and 70s that were informed in part by his visit to Buchenwald concentration camp in 1967, and which would, perhaps, have placed the shown work into context. However, in limited space the exhibition emphasises the strong sense of location, identity and being that Bellamy captures so well – the inclusion of watercolours, pencil drawings and etchings informing the larger body of oil paintings.
Open Eye Gallery, 558 9872, until 4 Sep (not Sun), free.