Born in 1942 in Scotland, John was raised in a small fishing village called Port Seton, just outside of Edinburgh. During the 1960s he studied at Edinburgh College of Art where he met his contemporaries including Alan Bold and Alexander Moffat. He later studied at the Royal College of Art in London, after graduating he gained a reputation in London as one of the great aspiring artists.
His coastal upbringing can be seen within the imagery of his work as the sea is often depicted, although it is transformed into a kind of personal mythology. His most characteristic pictures are large allegorical compositions involving hybrid human and animal forms, painted with explosive brushwork and suggesting some vague beautiful menace.
Following the separation from his first wife, his pieces took a darker, more expressive tone filled with symbolism; even tending towards expressionistic style work.
While John has produced many portraits, his most famous one is that of the cricketer Sir Ian Botham, which is still exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery in London.
John Bellany eventually passed away from liver disease in 2013 but his influence lives on in many of this generations artists, including Damian Hurst who claims to have been influenced by Bellany.