Scottish icon John Patrick Byrne is celebrated in style in a major new Glasgow exhibition

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This article has been sponsored by Glasgow Life.

Attribution/author:Article by: Emma Simmonds
Publish date: 21 June 2022

A Big Adventure is at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum until September

A formidable force in the Scottish cultural landscape, the Paisley-born John Patrick Byrne is a noted artist, playwright and theatre designer, who continues to create well into his eighties. Byrne’s wonderfully eclectic career is the subject of a major new exhibition, hosted by Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. It’s available to visit right now and runs until Sunday 18 September.

Appropriately dubbed A Big Adventure, this is the first retrospective of Byrne for more than two decades, making it a must-see. Set against a stunning architectural backdrop, cementing Byrne’s place in history, it’s an exhibition that seeks to capture the energy, excitement, humour and diversity of his career. It also manages to shade in some of his fascinating life story, beginning with his working-class upbringing and early employment, including mixing paint for the designers of a carpet factory. He later went on to study at the Glasgow School of Art.

The Slab Boys original poster artwork for the Ramshorn Theatre 2009. Private Collection, Charles Marks (c) John Byrne, all rights reserved, DACS 2022

Split into seven sections, A Big Adventure showcases the elaborate artworks Byrne produced for TV and stage, including the storyboards for the 1997 film version of his play The Slab Boys, which he directed. It reveals his passion for music and his collaborations with those working in the field; he painted covers for his friend Gerry Rafferty’s albums and worked overseas for artists like Donovan. 

A highlight of the exhibition is a room displaying over 40 of Byrne’s self-portraits, the most that have ever been brought together, while the show also features some of his paintings of famous faces, such as his ex-partner Tilda Swinton and close pal Billy Connolly, alongside other family and friends. And amongst the highly personal projects, there’s the original artwork from Donald and Benoit, a bedtime story Byrne created for his children.

Hands Up 2006, Private Collection (c) John Byrne, all rights reserved, DACS 2022

Martin Craig, the Glasgow Life Museums curator who put the exhibition together, has said, ‘Words like icon and genius can be overused, but in John’s case they are perfectly apt. He is, without question, one of the most important artists of the last 70 years and he is so prolific. We could have filled the exhibition space five times over. Deciding was hard! A Big Adventure is filled to the gunnels with striking artwork, I hope it captures the anarchic, jubilation and vastness of John’s life and career.’

And, while a number of cultural commentators have contributed their memories and impressions of Byrne in the form of short film clips, we’ll leave it to the man himself, who has this to say on the show: ‘I hope visitors enjoy it, seeing art should be fun. For me it’s certainly been a fun, ‘big adventure’ all these years.’

Beach boy with fish bone / Private Collection (c) John Byrne, all rights Reserved, DACS 2022

A Big Adventure is at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum from now until Sunday 18 September. Tickets are £7.50, concession £5, children under 16 are free. Open Monday – Thursday and Saturday, 10am-5pm; Friday and Sunday, 11am-5pm. 

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