ohn Bellany has a reputation for telling good stories. One of them is about the time he went to the Metropolitan Museum in New York and overheard two people involved in a heated argument over one ofthe only three British paintings in the gallery. Curious to see what the cause of the fuss was, Bellany looked over their shoulders to get a look at the picture. Of course it was one of his.
It would have been uncharacteristic of him to step into the breach, introduce himself and resolve the dispute — ‘I just hid in a comer and eavesdropped’ — but it’s a fair bet that the couple were arguing about fish. Anyone familiar with Bellany’s notoriously ‘difficult’ paintings will know that fish feature prominently, along with birds, boats and a menagerie of fairly ghoulish animals. More than one worthy essay has been written about the religious or fateful import
8The List3— l61uly1992
A major exhibition opens in Glasgow this month celebrating the work of JOHN BELLANY. Hailed by many as the most outstanding painter of his generation, he talks to Miranda France about his own artistic and emotional journey.
of his symbolism, but Bellany steadfastly resists requests that he ‘explain’ his work. always insisting that his painting draws on his own, well-documented. experiences of life.
He was brought up in the strict Calvinist fishing community of Port Seton (hence the marine symbolism), and started drawing boats aged four. He went to church three times on Sundays. was rebellious at art school, drank hard, and was married three times, twice to Helen, with whom he still lives in Clapham. Twice he nearly died of liver failure and later documented the extraordinary experience of his 1988 transplant operation in A Renaissance. at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. ‘Don’t write about the operation’. he says now, ‘people are going to start thinking that I’m the only person that’s ever been ill.’
Suffice to say that the experience had a profound effect upon a man who thought he
Self Portrait. Addonbrooltes, 1988
The Transplant ".1989 deserved to die. Now that he has reached the milestone of fifty (his birthday was on 18 June, the same day as Paul McCartney) Bellany is busier thanking his lucky stars that he has a future than reappraising his past.
Glasgow‘s Art Gallery and Museum will
celebrate the half-century with an exhibition ‘
of7() of Bellariy‘s oil paintings— some of
Houiago to thn Knox Irlptych.1969