In his own words he was an eternal outsider. And little about John Byrne’s life fit the classic mould.  

Born in Paisley’s run-down Ferguslie estate, he was the working-class kid who graduated as one of Glasgow Art School’s star pupils, but gained fame as a playwright and screenwriter. 

A hugely talented artist, he dedicated himself to painting and rejected the art world’s fascination with ‘conceptualisation’ - calling it “ bollocks”. 

And his private life was a tabloid-writers dream, with mutterings of a ‘menage a trois’ when his muse Tilda Swinton, with whom he shared two children, took up with a new lover and the trio lived together in Tain.  

The artist laughed off the scandal as “utterly untrue”, and all remained friends.  

Byrne grew up in Paisley and worked as a slab boy, mixing paint for the designers at AF Stoddard & Co carpet factory after leaving school, a place he described as a “technicolour hell-hole".  

The Herald:

In 1958 he was accepted to study at Glasgow School of Art (GSA) and later returned to AF Stoddard & Co as a carpet designer, teaching evening classes at GSA. 

The experience would inform his first play, the hit ‘slab boys’ in 1978 about a group of printers who want to form a band, and it was as a writer he would achieve his greatest level of fame among the public.  

READ MORE: John Byrne, acclaimed playwright and artist, dies aged 83

Byrne was proud of his humble roots in Scotland’s industrial west coast. "It does not matter what background you come from," he said. "My intellect was enriched by the background I came from. Everyone seemed more alive and all the streets were alive: morning noon and night. 

"I have an identity as very Scottish and it is what made me, and Paisley in particular. Every bit of information I ever needed came from there." 

Turning his hand to television, his 1987 six-part drama Tutti Frutti, starring the late Robbie Coltrane, Richard Wilson and Dame Emma Thompson.  

The story of a faded Scottish rock n’ roll band’s attempt at a comeback won six Baftas, including the best actress award for Dame Emma. It was also made into a stage play in 2006. 

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Byrne was also behind the 1990’s hit series Your Cheatin’ Heart, which starred Tilda Swinton and where the couple met.  

In 2017 he revealed there was a darker side to his family life, and that he had learned he was the product of an incestuous relationship between his mother and grandfather.  

The painter grew to be ambivalent about his parentage, accepting what had happened. "What did he do to me particularly that damaged me? I don't think he did damage me," he once said of his grandfather.   

Last year, Byrne’s career was charted in an exhibition at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. 

One highlight of the show, titled A Big Adventure, was a room displaying more than 40 self-portraits, described as the most ever displayed at one time, spanning 1963 to 2020. 

The Herald:

Paintings of famous figures including Tilda Swinton and Sir Billy Connolly also featured in the exhibition, along with more intimate studies of close family and friends. 

At the time, he said: “I suppose you could say it tells much of my life story. I hope visitors enjoy it, seeing art should be fun. For me it’s certainly been a fun, Big Adventure all these years.” 

READ MORE: Workers behind John Byrne play reunite

The exhibition also explored Byrne’s passion for music as well as writing and his influence on Scottish culture through his collaborations with other artistic figures such as his friends, the late Gerry Rafferty, and Sir Billy Connolly. 

Byrne remained proud of his outsider tag to the end. "The art world is a frightening bunch of people," he said. "I'm on the outside and I don't want to be on the inside. I don't want to be part of a big gang and tarred with the same brush. I kind of do what I want and continue to do what I want.”