John Byrne: Moonlight and Music (4 stars)

This article is from 2011

John Byrne: Moonlight and Music

Major exhibition of works by much-loved Scottish artist

So recent are some of the pieces in this show – timed to coincide with the launch of a biography of the artist by Lund Humphries – that self-portrait ‘Chop Suey’ and Byrne’s children’s book Donald & Benoit: A Story of a Cat and a Boy arrived close to the curtain call of the opening night.

Minute mezzotints nestle among larger creations such as ‘The Hunter’, which is macabre compared to the naïve charm of Donald and Benoit. ‘Patrick’ (Byrne’s oft-used pseudonym) makes an appearance here, with his larger-than-life reclining natives in the faux-naif style. Presiding over the larger of the two rooms is the unmistakable figure of Tilda Swinton, the biggest of the works on display and one of few not offered up for sale.

Byrne’s fascination with the self is well represented, his hirsute face seen in varying guises, each one a rebirth or reimagining of the subject, an indication perhaps of the artist’s journey through his own psychology, or perhaps just a readily available and well-known subject to render immortal through oils or ink. These pieces contrast heavily with the delicate ink and pencil of the Donald and Benoit illustrations which are almost an exhibition unto themselves: some remain mounted and lean against the wall by the Open Eye reception desk, daring the more adventurous viewer to rake through.

While almost everything here is available to buy there is no sense that the exhibition is merely a vessel for sales. Byrne’s love of painting is the obvious theme and there’s an atmosphere of excitement and inspiration around the work.

Open Eye Gallery, 557 1020, until 5 Sep (not Sun), free.

John Byrne RSA

  • 4 stars

New works by idiosyncratic artist and playwright John Byrne, coinciding with the publication of a new biography by Robert Hewison, and an appearance by Byrne himself at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Thu 18 Aug.

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