Artist and playwright John Byrne is returning to his creative homeland for a rare exhibition. He spoke to Kathleen Morgan.
John Byrnc is a difficult man to pin down — whether at the end of an answering machine or on a gallery wall. The artist. playwright and novelist-to-be is his
own man. in print, paint or in the flesh.
Writer ofthe BBC’s 'Iittti I’rutti. Byrne is in his London studio frantically preparing for a Glasgow exhibition of his work. When he has time to put down his paintbrush, he is immersed in drafting a screenplay for his stage hit The Slab Boys. writing a television series set in Paris and penning his first novel — a detective thriller trailing the shadowy depths of the art world. This man likes a challenge.
Marking a return to the Glasgow Print Studio where his love affair with printmaking began. [11 Term Sauvuge is an exhibition of watercolours and prints in Byrne‘s characteristic naive style. it is spiced with the same irrepressible sense of humour that surfaces
in his writing and has endeared him to an ever- . faithful audience. One of few such exhibitions
following a seventeen-year break from the an circuit, it is Byrne at his best — because he wants to be.
‘I got fed up with being a sausage machine and needed a break,‘ he says, explaining why he suddenly stopped exhibiting after gaining national success as an artist. it was a visit to the Glasgow Print Studio in 1992 that relit his passion for art and introduced him to the world of printmaking. Staff remember him virtually living among the blackened printing machines for a year, etching out the style he is now
‘l was so enarnoured of the whole process.‘ he says. ‘I just did it my own way — I was busking it really. l‘m a great believer in leaming to do things by doing them. l did exactly the same with writing. ljust sat down and taught myself. I'm doing the same with the novel just now — a detective thriller set partly in Glasgow. involving the world of exhibitions and
The Paisley-born son of a labourer and a housewife.
John Byrne’s Boy With Fish
Byrne trained at Glasgow School of An after a short
stint of grinding powder paint in an Elderslie factory -— the inspiration for The Slab Buys. Recently, after 30 years of commuting. he moved to London. It proved a refreshing change. but he does not intend to forget his roots. ‘lt's there with me wherever l am. ljust can‘t desert it. I love parochialism because everyone‘s parochial.’
La ’l'erre .S'tttti'uge is at the Glasgow Print Studio.
22 ()t't---/‘) N )i'.
_ Czech in time
Prague today is a crumbling city, stacked with dusty remnants of a culture crushed for 30 years by communism. MacDonalds and pizza restaurants, all bright lights and neon, have overshadowed surrounding buildings and crowds of tourists who began tramping round the old town in 1989, see only the castles and Baroque palaces noted in guide books. Yet apart from being an extremely well preserved example of a wealthy Middle Ages trade centre, Prague is also filled with stunning examples of 20th century architecture. From Art iiouveau to Czech Cubism; Art Deco to Functionalism, Czech architects, artists and designers were at the sharp end of the Modern movement. flow an exhibition exploring the remarkable creativity in Prague between 1891 -1 941 has been curated. Two dimensional plans, 30 models,
pieces of furniture, ceramics, clocks and other small pieces of design have been brought to Edinburgh’s City Art Centre from Prague’s Museum oi Decorative Arts and the National Technical Museum.
‘The time’s right,’ says Richard Emmerson, one of the show’s curators and lecturer in architecture at Edinburgh’s Heriott Watt University. ‘My generation’s parents had some knowledge of Czechoslovakia through things like Czech ceramics and the
The Cafe Corso 1897—98 by Freidrich Chmann Bata shoe shops, but during the 505 and 60s it just went off the map. How in the aftermath of the Velvet Revolution, we can at least come to some re-assessment of the country, re-connecting with the Czech Republic and introducing successive generations to something that is happening in the centre of Europe.’
In Prague it is possible to see the whole 20th century history of architecture and design. The work shows a nation that could describe
and see itself through Modernism.
‘They moved rapidly from one movement to another,’ says Emmerson. ‘In 1910, in Britain, we were at the height of Edwardian Baroque, but in Czechoslovakia they were at the height of the Succession movement which originated in Vienna. Then they moved on to Cubism and although the first Cubist exhibition was 1907, the i first Cubist building was in Prague,
The Czechs were incredibly quick to assimilate new ideas and techniques. Only the outbreak of World War II halted construction. But why did it happen in Prague, and not in Britain? ‘In 1918, Czechoslovakia was created,’ Emmerson explains. ‘When you create something new like that, you create energy and people are lust detennlned to do things. They weren’t sitting down writing manifestos - the Czechs were just designing and building.’ (Beatrice Colin)
Prague 1891 -1 941 is at the City Art Centre, Edinburgh until 7 Jan 1995.
The List 21 October—3 November l994