John Skelton is a native of Belfast, Northern Ireland. He has been associated with the figurative revival of the Euston Road School of the 1940s and 1950s, and with the Irish plein air tradition.
Many of John Skelton's figures can be read as elegiac: a solitary woman on a sofa, a bather staring listlessly after a swim, a farmer trekking home alone – all caught in a kind of monumental loneliness recalling the best of Edward Hopper, a long-time Skelton hero. Even in his scenes of rural social life – the country fair, the sheebeen – there is at times a sombre note, in a child's sad face, a farmer's stooped back. Yet the vanishing of that world itself carries with another kind of loss.
"The world I see around me is not my world any more," Skelton noted recently. " As you grow old, change makes you sad." Nostalgia has ceased to be respectable – yet Emin can show the beach hut of her childhood to great general acclaim; while we applaud when Hirst dwells on death and decay. In the current atmosphere of noise and youth, it is a point of honour for Skelton to mourn the passing of another world.
It is not the fearsome struggle of farmers and fishermen that Skelton venerates. What he values, rather, are those qualities which made them equal to the challenge. He possesses them himself: stubbornness, toughness, sensitivity to the ordinary; and a Skelton painting will always contain and embody them.