John Bellany was born at Port Seton in 1942. He was part of a long family tradition of fishermen and ship-builders whose imagery has fuelled much of the native, figurative art which he championed in the face of the giants of the mid-late 20th century art world movements: abstraction, conceptual art and Modernism.
Bellany studied at the Royal College of Art in 1965, the experiences of London life broadening his visual vocabulary which had previously revolved purely around the sea-faring environment. He and his family were brought up in Calvinism, and religious or moral overtones often permeate his work. In 1967, Bellany embarked on a moving visit to the remains of the Buchenwald concentration camp; the effect was profound and harrowing, and unfortunately coincided with a series of personal and emotional breakdowns which would occur over the next decade well into the 1970s.
Bellany’s depression led to self-destruction and serious ill health, reflected in the turmoil of his paintings in this darker period of his life. The start of the 1980s saw a reinvigoration in his life after a successful liver transplant operation; the transformation in Bellany’s mood was remarkable and, to the astonishment of his doctor and surgeon, inspired a series of paintings supposedly started within mere hours of his regaining consciousness.
He was awarded the CBE in 1994, and his works are held in major collections across Europe and America, including the National Galleries of Scotland, the Tate collection and the MOMA in New York. Bellany died on 28 August 2013.