John Byrne obituary


The work of the Scottish painter and playwright John Byrne, who has died aged 83, was all of a bit. His characters and caricatures, on stage or canvas, all stemmed from a sly, literate sense of humour, an in depth acquaintance with widespread tradition, and a fierce political independence.

Byrne himself entered that realm of widespread tradition with two acclaimed drama collection on tv after 20 years of exhausting graft in his studio and within the theatre. Tutti Frutti (1987) was an explosively humorous six-part BBC collection a few chaotic touring rock band, the Majestics (“Scotland’s Kings of Rock”), led by Robbie Coltrane, and whose members embody Emma Thompson and Maurice Roëves, with Richard Wilson as their more and more dour and exasperated supervisor.

All through the Eighties, Byrne was a contributor to BBC Scotland’s long-running sketch present Scotch and Rye, however his second huge private success, additionally for BBC Scotland, was one other six-parter with a musical background, this time a soundtrack of nation classics, Your Cheatin’ Coronary heart (1990), which starred Tilda Swinton as a Glasgow barmaid, John Gordon Sinclair as an investigative journalist and Ken Stott as a small-time prison and drug-dealer; the Glaswegian underworld and tragicomic capers had been a dramatic parody of the music’s narrative content material.

Byrne fell in love with Swinton whereas engaged on the collection, their happiness over the next a long time making him extra of a celeb than he relished. Every thing about Byrne was in his work and he even hid behind that proper from the beginning, when he provided a collection of spurious “naive” work for his first main London artwork exhibition, on the Portal gallery in 1967, below his father’s title, Patrick McShane, “a retired busker and labourer”. He was quickly rumbled.

He all the time appeared and spoke like an artist, and executed an nearly continuous movement of self-portraits on canvas that had been as revelatory and inquisitive (about himself) as any of these by Rembrandt or Velázquez. He even resembled the latter, along with his untidy hair, bloodhound face and straggly beard, and, like all nice self-portrait artists, may by no means be accused of narcissism. His most cited influences had been Giotto and Magritte. He had no real interest in panorama.

He was born into an Irish Catholic household, the son of Alice (nee McShane) and Patrick Byrne. Or so he thought. It transpired in 2002, because of a well-informed cousin, that his organic father was in actual fact his mom’s father, Patrick, his personal grandfather. He insisted that his mom actually did “love” her father, and often walked eight miles from the household residence on the Ferguslie Park housing property in Paisley, Renfrewshire, to see him. Later in life, although, his mom suffered from psychological well being issues.

Byrne was educated at St Mirin’s academy, Paisley, and, after serving an apprenticeship within the colour-mixing room of a Paisley carpet manufacturing facility within the mid-Nineteen Fifties, went to the Glasgow Faculty of Artwork, graduating in 1963. He gained a journey scholarship to Perugia, Italy, labored in a Scottish tv graphics division and returned to the carpet manufacturing facility as a designer.

His fame continued to develop, and he was the primary residing artist to exhibit within the new Third Eye Centre in Sauchiehall Road, Glasgow, in 1975. His present was not a hit, and he didn’t exhibit once more for an additional 16 years. He had found the theatre.

He added a three-dimensional depth to his graphic and painterly abilities in his theatre design, notably for the Nice Northern Welly Boot Present (1972), with the rising comedy star Billy Connolly. Connolly’s ebullient satire of the ship-building trade was successful of the Edinburgh competition (the solid additionally included Invoice Paterson) and made the journey south to the Younger Vic in London. Byrne additionally designed the present’s posters, as he continued to do thereafter, and Connolly’s huge pair of yellow banana boots, a signature prop corresponding to Ken Dodd’s tickle stick.

He grew to become the common designer for John McGrath’s terrific Scottish 7:84 firm, touring neighborhood centres with The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil (1973), a rampaging, tough musical theatre present charting the politically motivated Highland clearances by way of to the arrival of the oil moguls, with the concomitant destruction of native tradition and communities within the title of progress and money-making.

Out of that present, Byrne edged nearer to the centre along with his personal first play, Author’s Cramp (1977), which had began as a half-hour radio monologue and expanded into one of the deliriously humorous evenings I’ve skilled in a theatre. Three of the good 7:84 actors – Paterson, Alex Norton and John Bett – recounted, in a spoof arts documentary format, the unhappy story of the fictional Nitshill literato, Francis Seneca McDade. Sarcastically, I suffered from critic’s cramp watching the present’s premiere on the 1977 Edinburgh fringe in a small studio house; all seats had gone, so I sat below one, which occurred to belong to one of many actors’ moms. Laughing grew to become hectic.

I used to be on the ground, however Byrne was on a roll. He sourced the characters and setting of The Slab Boys (1978) in his Paisley carpet-factory days – quiffs, ciggies and rock’n’roll – and developed that play into an interconnected trilogy, and a BBC Play for As we speak in 1979. Sweet Kisses (1984), on the Bush theatre in London, drew on his days in Perugia – he magicked a 1963 Florentine pensione on that tiny stage, riotously mixing up an artwork scholar, a draft dodger, Celtic terrorists and a Welsh division head of church townships.

Extra sedately, he designed a farcical Restoration comedy, Edward Ravenscroft’s London Cuckolds, for the Leicester Haymarket and Lyric Hammersmith in 1985. On the Royal Courtroom in 1992, he resurrected the legend of two homosexual painters from Kilmarnock, Colquhoun and MacBryde, in a play of that title which adopted the 2 Roberts – performed by David O’Hara and Stott – as they shot to fame within the Soho of the Thirties, however crashed and burned in alcoholic obscurity in 1957.

As an adapter, he was an excellent match for Gogol’s Authorities Inspector, offering a boisterous, irresistible model for the director Jonathan Kent on the Almeida, north London, in 1997. Gogol was relocated to a backwater someplace close to Paisley supervised by an apoplectic Mayor from Ian McDiarmid with Tom Hollander because the by accident disruptive unofficial visiting official.

Extra not too long ago, there have been three Scottish variations of Chekhov (Brian Cox as Uncle Varick), and in 2013 he painted a splendidly vibrant roundel within the ceiling of the King’s, Edinburgh, displaying flying figures, tragedy and comedy masks, and a sinister harlequin. From 1991 he exhibited often once more and was made a member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 2007.

He was married to Alice Simpson in 1964, separated within the late Eighties, and was divorced in 2014. He lived with Swinton from 1989 to 2003, and married the lighting designer Jeanine Davies in 2014.

He’s survived by Jeanine, and by two kids, John and Celie, from his first marriage, and twins, Xavier and Honor, from his relationship with Swinton.


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