Galleries: At 80 John Byrne


The fascinating thing about looking at and writing about art is that I doubt myself and my assumptions constantly. I have no moral or academic high ground on which, other than the fact that I look, I base my views or opinions. And lots of it. To be honest, I prefer to move on and not write about it if I don’t like anything. In these pages, I think I would rather tell the story of art and artists than force on readers my own cobbled together opinions. You will be, of course, the judge of that.

My kids have developed into young adults who have their own views in the 13 years I’ve been writing about art for The. I took them to exhibits all the time when they were very young, and their observations cut through some pretentiousness and made me laugh out loud (#lol).

“nothing more than a collection of plastic bags.”nothing more than a collection of plastic bags.

“As my 16-year-old daughter looked at the Glasgow Print Studio (GPS) work of John Byrne (80) last Saturday, she casually remarked that a monotype named Untitled (Hand I), with watercolor and ink and pencil drawing, “would probably have been discounted” if she had submitted it to her Higher Art Portfolio because it did not meet the specified requirements and was “too cartoon.”

The work in question depicts the palm of a big hand with fingers spread wide, twisted to the side like Gourock with its crooked little finger. An alarmed-looking cartoonish face is on the palm of this hand, which has a tattooed base for a jaw. On the left, a suit cuff, complete with cufflinks, protrudes from an accusing hand with a pointing finger. So, John Byrne, so far.

The first exhibits to come out of the gate after GPS closed are John Byrne at 80 and Dear John, A Thirty Year Portrait by photographer David Eustace. And what a welcome return it represents.

John Byrne at 80 is a retrospective exhibition of the famous Scottish playwright, writer and artist John Byrne, who turned 80 earlier this year, with some 70 original prints (including some mixed media). The works have all been produced since the early 1990s at the Glasgow Print Studio and include a series of new hand-colored screen prints by Byrne at the studio earlier this year.

The partnership of Byrne with the studio dates back to 1976, but this body of work travels seamlessly through a range of styles; from his revisited “Patrick” period (dating back to the 1960s when Byrne created a series of paintings under the guise of “Patrick” after a lack of popularity with London galleries), to Slab Boys, Teddy Boys, works in the Cubist style, Braque-like prints and the lovable Donald prints.

Of course, Byrne takes center stage, and through a series of chameleon-like self-portraits and double portraits, his familiar mad hair, beaky features, dandy mustache and hollow eyes are written broadly on several walls. He plays at every turn with the full spectrum of types of printmaking: etching, monotype, mezzotint, silkscreen, lithograph.

The weight of the years has settled heavily on his shoulders with a reference to his recent landmark birthday, and’ past history’ is a recurrent theme. One of my favourite pieces in the exhibit is a watercolor silkscreen called Momento Mori. In it, Byrne looks at a bright orange backdrop questioningly. His head and shoulders are covered by a skeletal structure with the characteristic long neck that seems to be doing a happy dance.

This sight sent a shiver down my spine, having had no access to real live ‘art’ in recent months. In all kinds of purposes.

Byrne still manages to find a way to establish the medium in which he works for himself. A series of three tiny mezzotint self-portraits from 2010 is painted down, delicate and velvety smooth, while stormy and lively is the much bigger Nova Scotia, a mixed media silkscreen.

The smaller David Eustace display takes a quieter stroll through the last three decades of Byrne’s life, as though there weren’t enough John Byrne portraits in the John Byrne exhibit.

Eustace, the former prison officer, whose photos have appeared everywhere, from Vogue to Tatler


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