John Byrne at The Scottish Gallery15 Jul 2020
by Guy Peploe
John Byrne had his first one man show with The Scottish Gallery in 1974 and he showed again in 1991.
John Byrne had his first one man show with The Scottish Gallery in 1974 and he showed again in 1991. The 1980s were a creative time for John, particularly for his writing. Tutti Frutti was broadcast in 1987 and then Your Cheatin’ Heart in 1990. It was also a time when he was often without a permanent studio so that what he was able to paint was often on a small scale. In 1990 I remember visiting him when he was staying at Fingask, near Dundee and he showed me a treasure trove of works being stored in less than ideal conditions.
His monumental Patrick painting The American Boy was in a loft space and he had sawn it in half, very carefully and precisely down the middle, in order than it could be moved. Within a year or so we had sold the work to Glasgow Museums.
At the same time we had consigned a number of works on paper relating to his theatre work and a part edition of the Patrick image Girl with Monkey.
I remember a wonderful coloured drawing of a roadkill rabbit called ‘On the Road again’ from Tutti Frutti and lovely character, costume drawings from Clifford Odette’s The Country Girl. And there were sheets and sheets of storyboard drawings for both television and theatre work.
In 2001 we also sold the monumental National Velvet to Paisley Museum, a key rock n’ roll image made in 1975 where the guitarist’s instrument seemed to have a slab of meat for a body. Soutineesque images of slabs of butchered meat had been included in our show of the previous year.
Today we can offer three wonderful studies of cast characters from The Marriage of Figaro made around 1986 when Byrne was commissioned as the costume designer for a Scottish Opera production. The old gossip Don Basilio is brilliantly realized, thick-lipped and prim with his sheet music and cane, while the Count is dashing and sinister and Marcellina hopelessly overdressed, her mouth a little twisted.
Enjoy these two films below from the National Library Archives and National Galleries Scotland.