Artist John Byrne to be celebrated with retrospective shows in Edinburgh and Glasgow

He is one of Scotland’s most celebrated cultural polymaths whose work has been winning admirers for more than half a century.

Monday, 16th May 2022, 4:55 am
John Byrne painted 'Man on the beach with cat' in 1972.
John Byrne painted 'Man on the beach with cat' in 1972.

Now the paintings of John Byrne are set to be celebrated in both Edinburgh and Glasgow with the launch of two exhibitions bringing together works of art he has created as far back as the 1960s.

The major retrospectives, which will both open at the Fine Art Society and Kelvingrove later this month, will chart the career of the 82-year-old, who is equally well known for his work in theatre and television than in the visual art world.

They will recall how Paisley-born Byrne – a former carpet factory worker - first found success as an artist in London by using the pseudonym “Patrick” and claiming to be a self-taught painter to secure an exhibition at a gallery looking to showcase untrained artists.

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'Two children,' created for the Patrick at Portal exhibition by John Bryne in 1968.

The two exhibitions will coincide with the launch of a major new musical theatre production inspired by the Paisley upbringing of Bryne, who found fame with the stage trilogy The Slab Boys and TV dramas Your Cheatin’ Heart and Tutti Frutti.

Underwood Lane, which will premiere at Johnstone Town Hall in Renfrewshire and the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, will focus on the travails of a young skiffle band trying to make it big as they grapple with “style, fierce love rivalry, broken hearts, dodgy dealers, religion, sex and death.”

Emily Walsh, managing director of the Fine Art Society, said: “Our show begins in 1963 with a church interior which he painted while on a travelling scholarship to Italy after being awarded the Newbery Medal at Glasgow School of Art.

"He saw the great quattrocento painters: Giotto, Cimabue and Duccio. The light, the exquisite detail and stillness of the Italian primitives is all there in his work of the late 60s and early 70s.

The Pink Boot, painted by John Byrne in 1972-3.

“In 1966 he secured an exhibition - and his passport out of factory life - at the Portal Gallery in London under the pseudonym “Patrick”.

"Having passed himself off as a self-taught naïf, he was given an exhibition. The dream-like images that made up the show met with success. His ruse was uncovered and from here he went on to design record covers for The Beatles, Billy Connolly and Gerry Rafferty, and to co-write songs with the latter.

“From the early 1970s John diversified into writing, designing and directing stage and screen productions.

"In the decades that followed an extensive iconography unfolded amounting, in some cases, to a kind of pictorial autobiography. In a finely balanced act, he pulled together the macabre and humour.

A John Byrne self-portrait painted in 2003.

"Running through all of John’s work is the outsider, either as a lone figure or a fragment of society. The vision may be fantastical and magical, but it’s what John knows.”

Glasgow Life, which runs Kelvingrove, described Byrne as a “polymath and cultural icon.”

An announcement on its exhibition said: “It encapsulates the energy and excitement of John’s work and tells a little of the fascinating life he’s led.

"A highlight of the show at Kelvingrove will be a room displaying over 40 self-portraits, the most ever displayed at one time, spanning Byrne's whole career. It will feature works from our own collection, as well as institutions from across Scotland and private lenders.”

A painting inspired by a meat market in the Gallowgate district of Glasgow.
A John Byrne self-portrait painted in 2021.
The Huntsman and the Snowy Owl, painted by John Byrne in 2014.
The Church of San Fortunato, in Perugia, painted by John Byrne in 1963.
The Vital Spark painted by John Byrne in 2017.
An Unsolved Crime, painted by John Byrne in 1997.