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Artist John Byrne marks the opening of his retrospective exhibition at Kelvingrove.   Picture: Martin Shields
Artist John Byrne marks the opening of his retrospective exhibition at Kelvingrove. Martin Shields

John Byrne retrospective opens at Kelvingrove art gallery

The first look-back showing of the Paisley-born polymath for more than 20 years.

A new exhibition charting the illustrious career of Scottish cultural icon John Patrick Byrne is opening at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (Friday 27 May).

A Big Adventure is the first retrospective of the Paisley-born artist, playwright, and theatre maker for more than 20 years.

A true polymath, John Byrne has continued to work, paint and create plays on into his 80’s.

A Big Adventure encapsulates the energy and diversity of Byrne’s work and tells a little of the enthralling life he has led, according to Glasgow Museums.

Byrne said of the retrospective: “It’s been a real pleasure working with Glasgow Museums on this retrospective.

“I’ve been in and out of Kelvingrove my whole life.

'Broad range'

“It’s a delight to be reunited with works I've not seen in years, especially as they are hanging on the walls of a place I and so many people love.

“It’s been a real pleasure working with Glasgow Museums on this retrospective." - Photo: Martin Shields
“It’s been a real pleasure working with Glasgow Museums on this retrospective." - Photo: Martin Shields

“I'm glad that with the help of so many friends who’ve loaned artworks we’ve been able to showcase a really broad range, from murals to storyboards and everything in-between.

“I suppose you could say it tells much of my life story.

“I hope visitors enjoy it, seeing art should be fun. For me it's certainly been a fun, Big Adventure all these years.”

Bailie Annette Christie, chair of Glasgow Life, said: “John Byrne is quite simply a true Scottish cultural colossus.

 

It’s a delight to be reunited with works I've not seen in years, especially as they are hanging on the walls of a place I and so many people love.

John Byrne

 

“This captivating new exhibition, the first at Kelvingrove since 2019, proudly celebrates one of Scotland’s most successful sons and shows why he is rightly considered one of the most gifted artists of the last 70 years.

“His works are prized in collections around the world and Glasgow Life Museums are proud to be among their number.

“Byrne’s story is an inspirational one. He came from a working-class background, had many jobs before embarking on a successful artistic career and often talks of the importance of visiting the library and museums while growing up.

“We hope this exhibition is a visual feast for many and may provide a similar spark for future genera*ons of Scottish artists and writers.”

"A true Scottish cultural colossus."
"A true Scottish cultural colossus."

The show comprises seven sections, charting Byrne’s broad career.

The artist has painted many famous faces, including Billy Connolly and Tilda Swinton.

A Big Adventure brings these together with more intimate studies of close family and friends, brought to life with symbols of their work or passions woven into the paintings.

Another highlight of the show at Kelvingrove is several works Byrne created with Glasgow Print Studio over more than 40 years.

'Absolute joy'

The paintings move between style and subject, from Cubist Harlequins, exquisite still-life, cherub-like ‘Beach Boys’, to darker, more narrative-driven paintings of dark woods or distressing scenes.

Martin Craig, curator of art post 1945 at Glasgow Life Museums, who put the exhibition together, said: “It’s been an absolute joy working with John on this exhibition.

“I’ve always been a fan, but learning more about his work, getting to know the man himself and listening to what friends and family have to say, I’m in awe.

“Words like icon and genius can be overused, but in John’s case they are perfectly apt.

Martin Craig: “Words like icon and genius can be overused, but in John’s case they are perfectly apt." Photo: Martin Shields
Martin Craig: “Words like icon and genius can be overused, but in John’s case they are perfectly apt." Photo: Martin Shields

“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.”

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