John Bellany, R.A.
- John Bellany, R.A.
- Fishermen in the Snow
- oil on board
The town of Port Seton lay at the very heart of John Bellany’s unique vision. The cold waters of the Firth of Forth, the traditional fishing community, the heavy cloak of Calvinism, these influences informed and permeated nearly every aspect of his artistic life. Bellany was born in Port Seton in 1949 and from his earliest years the boats packed together in the town’s harbour became an obsession, the centre of his childhood universe. The young Bellany studied them intimately and by drawing them repeatedly developed both his artistic hand and eye. Over time these fishing boats began to transcend the physical and economic, they became an archetypal symbol, a metaphor for the voyage of life.
During the 1950s Port Seton was served by thirteen churches and the Calvinist teachings espoused from the pulpits hung over the town like a giant drift net, Bellany himself explained that ‘Religion in the village wasn’t something you swotted up for like an exam, you wore it' (Bellany, ibid). This strict moral code and its emphasis on suffering and guilt had a profound effect on Bellany and his art is imbued with a religious rhetoric and symbolism. Fishermen in the Snow encapsulates entirely this atmosphere of deep rooted religious austerity. This period of Bellany’s career is often considered the most fertile and accomplished and his biographer John McEwan notes that ‘for many these grim, visionary testimonies to the stoicism of the fishing life have a metaphorical force he has never surpassed’. (John McEwan, John Bellany, 1994, p.18)
Fishermen in the Snow was one of the first works David Bowie purchased at auction and held a highly significant position in the collection. Bowie was fascinated by Bellany's upbringing and, not content to simply interpret Bellany’s art from a distance, visited Port Seton on a number of occasions in order to understand fully the influences and forces behind the works in his collection. Indeed, Bellany recalled that: ‘He [Bowie] comes to Port Seton a lot. He told me he goes with a ‘reverent feeling’ to try and find out what might have inspired the paintings in his collection. One time he was staying at the Caley Hotel in Edinburgh and he came to our flat for dinner. I asked him, “Well, David, what have you been up to today?’ He said: ‘I’ve been down to Port Seton again…”’ (Bellany, ibid.).