Bellany John-P5661_old_man-and-the-sea

© Estate of John Bellany. All rights reserved 2023 / Bridgeman Images


John Bellany (1942 – 2013)


56.5 X 75.4 CM
Accession number


Bellany came from a fishing family, both his father and grandfather were fishermen. He had first read Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Seawhen he was a student and he described it as having ‘hit a nerve inside’. The novel tells of a fisherman who has caught nothing for weeks and then hooks the largest marlin he has ever seen and the struggles he has to land the fish. It can be seen as a parable of self discovery. Charles Booth-Clibborn invited Bellany to make a publication of his own choosing and this theme of a man being driven to the brink of death seemed apt as Bellany was seriously ill at the time through heavy drinking; he was eventually to have a liver transplant in 1988. The final portfolio comprised 10 etchings and four screenprints printed at Peacock Printmakers in Aberdeen. The publisher grouped the works into a sequence that followed the sequence of Hemmingway’s narrative, but the artist did not see this order as being critical to the publication. Bellany later commented that the ‘imagery itself just flowed like a tidal wave from start to finish;the passion in the work was magnified by the fact that I was struggling for my own life at the time.’

Further reading:
Contemporary Art in Print, Scottish National Gallery of Modern and The Paragon Press, 1995, texts by Jeremy Lewison, Duncan Macmillan and Patrick Elliott