John Byrne Exhibition


Photograph taken before entering exhibition

I first came across John Byrne whilst working at one of his previews a few years ago in Edinburgh. I remember as I poured drinks for the guests  it was clear that John Byrne was a man full of life and character, from the way he dressed to the way he conducted himself amongst others. He captured my imagination as did his art work.

Sunday I visited the Scottish National Portrait Gallery  to see his show ‘Sitting Ducks’, a retrospective of his work spanning 50 years.

The exhibit seemed bigger than the room, the people he had captured were full of life and rich in depth and colour. His self portraits, appeared to ooze out of the frame and draw you in closer to see the fine brush work and invite you to look into his eyes. I wondered what thoughts are happening when he is creating a self portrait, what story is being conveyed and if the portrait could talk what would it say.


Byrne, J,  Me and Myself  (nd)48 x 36 inches, oil on board, private collection.[images online] Available at: [Accessed October 8th 2014]


Byrne, J, Self Portrait, (nd) oil on board. [Images online] Available at: [Accessed 4th october 2014]

I came away thinking how to create stories and characters full of life, characters that will come out of the page, invite the reader/viewer in and engage them in the process of the story and to caret a relationship with the characters portrayed in the story. John Byrne’s work for me is an example of studying the finite details on his sitter or himself, knowing every mark every line and creating a work where it feels it is not just an artwork but a story contained within frame. 

John Byrne spoke of his work and the importance of self examination and of others  in a video interview for the National Galleries of Scotland (2014)

“What do you think when you get up in the morning or what do you think when you go to bed? You never sort of quiz yourself and you’ve got the means to do that, forensic examination of your psyche and your exterior and what that exterior contains. It contains so much wonderful and marvellous things. People seem to skip over that quite lightly, the appearance of people and that’s your outward face to their world, I cannae imagine why it doesnae intrigue everybody. What you have to do is capture the spirit of the person you’re drawing and I can see the spirit of all of them.” (Byrne 2014)

Capturing the viewer/readers imagination through depiction of characters is a clear defined area for my work and as my thoughts turn to the the presence of text the relationship with the image or how the image works in the absence of text, I can see this becoming a interesting and exciting journey.


  • National Galleries Scotland,(2014) John Byrne Film

    [online] Available at:// [Accessed 8th october 2014]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s