John Byrne is widely regarded as one of the greatest artistic talents that Scotland has produced in the last century. He is one of those rare cultural figures whose career frequently, and legitimately, attracts the descriptor ‘polymath’. Today renowned as a highly skilled draughtsman, painter and muralist, for many years his great talent as a writer for theatre and the screen threatened to eclipse his artwork.
Byrne has long been recognised as one of Scotland’s best loved playwrights, with career highlights including the lauded Slab Boys trilogy which, having shaken up the genre on home turf, went on to enjoy a Broadway run starring Kevin Bacon, Sean Penn and Val Kilmer. In the 1980s, the BBC dramatised Byrne’s screenplay Tutti Frutti, a series which famously launched the talents of Robbie Coltrane and Emma Thompson. His profile has, on occasion, been raised for reasons other than his creative talents, and his relationship with the actress Tilda Swinton was followed closely by the press.
Happily, in the last decade he has at last become equally highly regarded for his artwork, surprisingly late in the career of a man who is, and has always been, an artist through and through. His buoyant and rapidly burgeoning market both in the gallery setting and at auction attests this. His work appears in many of the nation’s collections, including the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and Kelvingrove Art Gallery. Other notable moments in career include his album cover designs for The Beatles, Gerry Rafferty and Billy Connolly.
As a young boy growing up in a deprived area of Paisley, he drew compulsively and excellently, following this natural trajectory to the Glasgow School of Art where - having startled his tutors with his immense, chameleonic skill - he emerged as one of the leading talents of his peer group. At the end of his time at the school, he won their most prestigious painting award; a travelling scholarship which enabled him to study the works of Masters like Giotto and Cimabue first hand in Italy for a year.
Portraiture, most specifically, self-portraiture, is a keystone underpinning much of the arc of Byrne’s entire career. Over the years, and in large part thanks to his striking appearance and sense of style, it has served as a signature of sorts; with Teddy Boy hairstyle, aquiline nose and the drooping, Edwardian moustache of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a forebear and fellow prodigious son of the Glasgow School of Art. Whatever the motivation and origin of his compulsion towards the genre; whether simply a familiar ground on which to experiment with technique, or a Rembrandt-like drive to record human nature and mortality, the self-portrait is something for which Byrne became recognised and revered as early as his art school days.
This April, we are delighted to present three fascinating examples of this most quintessential subject of Byrne’s in our Contemporary and Post War auction in Edinburgh. The selection of works showcases the diversity of his skill and ability to experiment with technique within mediums, maintaining all the while a sense of the idiosyncratic, the often tragi-comic, and of course that trademark effortless fluidity of skill.
Dates for Your Diary
AUCTION | Contemporary and Post War Art | Wednesday 17 April 2019 at 11:00am | Edinburgh
VIEWING | Sunday 14th April 12pm to 4pm | Mon 15th & Tues 16th April 10am to 5pm | Morning of sale by appointment only