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Bellany Exhibition brings Festival to memorable close

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The Festa del Centro Storico came to a memorable end Sunday evening, with an exhibition of new paintings by celebrated Scottish artist John Bellany. For many years, Barga has been Bellany’s second home and a favorite subject, along with his birthplace Port Seton. His enduring attachment to these very distinct settings – a fishing harbour on the Firth of Forth and a hill town perched on the shoulder of the Italian Apennines – was the implicit theme of the exhibition, hosted by Gianfranco Selmi and Nadia Rossi in the Piazza Angelio annex of their Galleria il Marzocco. Selmi, one of Tuscany’s leading experts on painting, has enjoyed a long professional association with Bellany.

“Port Seton is where my roots lie, where the whole of Scotland takes on meaning for me. You cannot be an expressive artist without roots to build on,” Bellany said in an interview with barganews. “Then, about 10 years ago, I met your mayor Umberto Sereni, and he said to me ‘Come to Tuscany, John, cleanse your soul in Barga. I did just that and it changed my life.”

It also changed his art. “My work became much more lyrical. Which is not to say that it didn’t also plumb the depths from time to time. That’s life. That’s the human condition. There’s no better place to study it than Barga.”

The 68-year-old Bellany’s latest works showcase the painterly hand and acute eye that have made him a major creative figure in Great Britain, where he is a member of the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts. In canvases large and small, he explores his two chosen worlds with a combination of exacting composition and intense colours that recall Vincent Van Gogh. Alternating between landscapes, portraits of local residents and ancient rituals – notably a monumental depiction of Barga’s San Cristoforo procession now hanging in the town’s comune (city hall) – Bellany probes deeply into the psychological ties that bind individuals to a specific place and its defining symbols.

In a sense, the Bellany exhibition offers an eloquent tip-of-the-hat to Barga painters Fabrizio Da Prato and Keane, who opened the 10-day festa with their own symbol-laden examination of the region’s landscape and inhabitants. (article here)

John Bellany was the first artist ever honoured with a solo show at London’s National Portrait Gallery (1986), and is regarded by many critics as Scotland’s greatest living painter. In addition to the Galleria Il Marzocco, his works are found in dozens of the world’s leading public collections, including those of the British Museum, the chief museums of Edinburgh and Glasgow, the Kennedy Library in Boston, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, the Royal College of Art and the Tate Gallery in London.

Article by Frank Viviano

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