Obituary

John Byrne: Gifted artist and writer weaved lasting cultural legacy 

'Supremely gifted' and 'irreplaceable', Byrne leaves behind a legacy in the world of arts and culture.

The “supremely gifted” playwright and artist John Byrne has died at the age of 83 – leaving behind a lasting legacy in Scottish culture.

Byrne is famed for his work in theatre and television with creations such as play trilogy The Slab Boys; television dramas Tutti Frutti and Your Cheatin’ Heart.

Born on January 6, 1940, in Paisley, Scotland, he studied at Glasgow School of Art from 1958 to 1963.

Initially Byrne struggled to make a living as an artist; he created an alter-ego called “Patrick”;  under that name, he submitted work to a London gallery, and this launched his professional career.

His love of music and close friendships with names including Billy Connolly and Donovan led to famous album cover designs, portraits and caricatures.

By the 1970s, Byrne was fully immersed in the world of scriptwriting and theatre.

Scottish playwright and artist John Byrne near a poster promoting his comedy ‘Normal Service’, UK, March 9, 1979.

His play, the Slab Boys, was based on his own experiences working in a carpet factory in the 1950s.

Rock’n’roll musical Underwood Lane, which he dedicated to his long time friend, singer Gerry Rafferty, was billed as a love song to 1960s Paisley.

His television show, Tutti Frutti launched the careers of actors  Emma Thompson and Robbie Coltrane in 1987. 
This was followed by Your Cheatin Heart in 1990 which starred Tilda Swinton – whom he later married.

The couple, had twin children and, for a time, made their home in Highlands.  After their split, they remained close and the Oscar-winning actress continued to praise her former partner’s genius.

He has been celebrated by figures across the realms of politics, arts and culture for his talent, creativity and sharp wit.

Nicola Sturgeon said: “So terribly sad to hear of the death of John Byrne, supremely talented playwright and artist, one of Scotland’s most important cultural voices of modern times, and the loveliest of men.

“I was thrilled in 2017 when he agreed to do the illustration for my First Minister Christmas card. My condolences to his loved ones.”

Former journalist and politician Joan McAlpine said: “John Byrne leaves Scotland culturally richer. He gave us Tutti Frutti, The Slab Boys and so much wonderful imagery.

A new exhibition charting the illustrious career of John Patrick Byrne, a modern Scottish cultural icon, is set to open at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum on Friday 27 May.
Exhibition charting the career of John Patrick Byrne at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in May 2022

“It’s impossible to overstate how important he was as an artist. Sad he is gone but thankful for what he has given us.”

Artist Alison Watt described him as “supremely gifted as an artist and playwright, generous, funny and the most stylish man I’ve ever met.”

Author Graeme Thompson wrote: “John Byrne was a wonderful man; an artist to his fingertips, in the round, who balanced wit, tragedy, humanity, naturalism and surrealism, with true grace.

“He simply had a unique and brilliant way of looking at the world. Irreplaceable.”

A statement released by the Fine Art Society in Edinburgh said he died “peacefully” on Thursday with his wife Jeanine by his side.

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