I was in Edinburgh last month to give a talk on Merkel cell cancer. While there I wandered into the Scottish National Gallery and the exhibition of the paintings of John Bellany. The body of work is overwhelming. Huge canvases, many made of several joined panels. As a student he made ends meet gutting fish in the industrial fisheries. The imagery of working men and dismembered fish becomes a theme throughout his work. In Kinlochbervie, though we see only 10, there is a strong evocation of the Last Supper. In Allegory this link of the fishery to Christian mythology is even stronger with three haddock carcases of nailed up in the foreground and the boat masts and crowds behind like soldiers with their spears. There is nothing new in the fish-messiah metaphor dating from the acronym ICTHUS as code for a persecuted religion and the frequent use of fish in gospel stories. Here Bellany re-uses this metaphor in a gritty industrial setting. Bethel and The Obsession follow a shared structure with strange tube-like men set upon a stage against sea and sky. Something in these latter paintings was reminiscent of photographs I have seen of great sculpted people set looking out to sea on Easter Island.
This is the beginning of an idea: developing the sketches of cormorants to a full painting of the birds standing tall and lined up at the water’s margin, like icons or idols, carved monuments as much as living birds. Here then are the first sketches.
This is a collation of the field sketches (most posted before) from which I am working. Snow is limiting access to do more this weekend.
Finally, all credit to the BBC for systematically making the nation’s art available on line. That license – worth every penny.