We are continuing with our ‘Scottish Palette Inspired by…’ blog. Last week, Deirdre did an excellent job of drawing her cats, just like Elizabeth Blackadder. This week, I tackle portraiture as I am inspired by the artist John Byrne.
It was not always certain if we could include John Byrne in the exhibition. Byrne’s triptych is 3m long and might have dominated the gallery, distracting visitors from other artists’ work. However, I am really glad we decided to show John Byrne’s work as he has always been a Scottish artist I am interested in.
I first heard of John Byrne when I studied the play, ‘The Slab Boys’ at school. Byrne is a playwright as well as an artist, and even wrote for screen the television series, ‘Tutti Frutti.’ I became more familiar with his artwork through countless visits to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery to see his portraits of famous Scottish sitters such as Robbie Coltrane, Gerry Rafferty, Billy Connolly and Tilda Swinton (the mother of his children). Even if you are not familiar with seeing Byrne’s artwork in a gallery, you might have seen his artwork on the cover of albums such as The Beatles Ballads. Byrne also designed covers for Penguin Books. More recently, you can see Byrne’s artwork on the dome of the King’s theatre in Edinburgh. His mural features a harlequin and Shakespeare’s words ‘All the World’s a Stage.’
The two artworks by John Byrne which feature in A Scottish Palette are ‘Juggling Harlequin’ and ‘Smoking Beach Boy’ (above). Together they demonstrate the variety of Byrne’s work through their style and scale. ‘Juggling Harlequin’ from the Boswell Collection is a small hand-coloured etching in a cubist style, like Picasso. The lines give the sense of movement as well as the sense of a harlequin pattern. ‘Smoking Beach Boy’ is quite the opposite and shows Byrne’s graphic style. He really communicates the laziness and character of the beach boy.
Inspired by Byrne, this week my challenge was to try portraiture. When I lived up north I used to see John Byrne occasionally in passing, so I thought it would be a good idea to try drawing John Byrne’s portrait from a photograph online. My first attempt was a quick sketch in pen and then I tried a larger version in charcoal and coloured chalk. I struggled to draw the portrait in a similar style to Byrne as he has so many different approaches, but I did try to exaggerate some features like his nose and stripy shirt.
If you have been inspired by John Byrne, why not try drawing a portrait too? Also, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh will be showing a John Byrne retrospective exhibition this June, and heading to Inverness Art Gallery afterwards.
Rebecca Prentice, Curatorial Trainee (Learning & Access)