Described by Billy Connolly as “Scotland’s favourite artist”, the celebrated artist and playwright will give an exclusive ‘In Conversation’ interview fronted by the BBC’s Fiona Stalker to open this year’s Nuart Plus series of artist talks, lectures, debates and film screenings.
Perhaps best known as writer of The Slab Boys Trilogy of plays which explore working-class life in Scotland, and of the TV dramas "Tutti Frutti" and "Your Cheatin' Heart" his art was propelled into the public eye when he was the first artist to paint the ‘Gable End’ of a Glasgow tenement block in 1975. His mural, “Boy on dog” became a familiar sight to anyone racing along the then new Clydeside Expressway. The mural is regarded as being one of the first “street art” murals ever produced in the UK.
Expected to ‘sell out’, this opportunity to hear his unique insights into his life as an artist will take place on April 18 at the Belmont Filmhouse. Brought to the city by Aberdeen Inspired and Aberdeen City Council, with generous support from delivery partners Burness Paull and The McGinty’s Group, Nuart Aberdeen is taking place from April 18 to 21.
With a career spanning more than 60 years, John Byrne’s art has adorned walls, theatre roofs and pop culture (through album covers for the Beatles and Gerry Rafferty), as well as critically acclaimed paintings which hang in galleries and private collections around the world.
John Byrne said: “Back in the late 1960's and 70s the street artists of New York caught my eye. I loved the idea of finding a derelict building and using it as a canvas for my art.
“That's why I did the gable end in Glasgow I wanted something big to paint on to see if I could do it! Something that would be seen by people from passing cars on the motorway, so the gable end was an ideal site as you could see it from the Clydeside Expressway.
“So more than 40 years on since I did the mural I'm looking forward to seeing what the artists are up to in Aberdeen. When it comes to street art people should expect the unexpected. I'm sure people will be curious to hear what I think, I'm sure I will get asked all sorts of interesting questions which is what I enjoy."
Martyn Reed, director and curator of Nuart, said: “Shona Byrne, senior project manager at Aberdeen Inspired mentioned in passing that her husband’s uncle had painted a gable end back in the early 70’s. I did some digging, and wow, what a treasure trove of links to our manifesto we found. Not only did John come from a working class background and move into the arts, work with pop culture and music, overcome being an outsider in both camps and finally succeed, he was arguably, alongside Rochdale’s Walter Kershaw, one of the very first people to paint a public mural in the true spirit of “street art”. I feel a strong affinity to John Byrne and I’m absolutely honoured we’ll be opening proceedings with his talk.”
Adrian Watson, chief executive of Aberdeen Inspired, said: “John Byrne is a pioneer of the art world and we are honoured he will play a part in the fantastic range of events planned for the Nuart Aberdeen weekend. His In Conversation is bound to be one of the highlights.
“John is no stranger to breaking convention and while his career has taken him in many different artistic directions, it truly came into the public eye with his infamous Glasgow gable end mural.
“Street art pushes the boundaries of what art can be, in a public way that transforms space, tells stories and connects people both young and old. We have witnessed exactly that in the past two years with Nuart Aberdeen and we can’t wait to bring it back to the streets of our city next month.”
Born in Paisley in 1940, John Byrne attended the Glasgow School of Art from 1958 to 1963. His work is held in major collections in Scotland and around the world, with several paintings on show in The Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, the Museum of Modern Art and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow.
He was made a full member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 2007 and is an Honorary Fellow of the GSA, the RIAS, an Honorary Member of the RGI and holds Honorary Doctorates from the universities of Aberdeen, Glasgow, Paisley and Strathclyde.
Councillor Marie Boulton, Aberdeen City Council’s culture spokesperson, said: “John Byrne will add a new and exciting dimension to the 2019 programme and it will be fantastic to get his views and insight. John is celebrated as one of the pioneers of street art and, as Nuart has shown, it is an artform that continues to captivate and innovate. The 2019 programme promises to be another fantastic success and we look forward to playing our part.”
Tricia Walker, Partner at Burness Paull, added: “Every year Nuart takes things to a new level, and securing a legend like John Byrne to visit Aberdeen and share his experiences is a real coup. He played a key role in transforming the image of his home city of Glasgow, and Nuart is helping to do the same for Aberdeen by bringing together people and art to showcase our city in a new light. It will be fascinating to hear his views on how art can shape a city’s reputation and economy, and what he thinks of the street art that is already here in the Granite City.”
Booking is essential and tickets can obtained online or in person at the Belmont Filmhouse from 12 noon on Thursday 21 March. These are limited to four per person. belmontfilmhouse.com
For requests for more than four tickets please contact firstname.lastname@example.org