Tributes have been paid to the “supremely talented” artist and playwright John Byrne, creator of TV show Tutti Frutti, who has died at the age of 83.
The Fine Art Society announced the Paisley-born polymath, also known for works including his play The Slab Boys, died “peacefully” on Thursday with his wife Jeanine by his side.
As well as being a “masterful” painter, Byrne designed record covers for the likes of Donovan, The Beatles, Gerry Rafferty and Sir Billy Connolly.
His work is held in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, and the Museum of Modern Art and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow.
In a statement on Friday, the society said: “It is with huge sadness that we announce the death of John Byrne. He died peacefully yesterday with his wife Jeanine by his side. We will miss him tremendously. Our thoughts are with his family.
“John was one of the most inventive and versatile of all Scotland’s modern artists. As well as being a technically masterful painter, he was a designer of theatre sets and album covers and one of the most notable playwrights of his generation.
“The Slab Boys (1978) and Tutti Frutti (1987) were landmarks of theatre and TV.”
It is with huge sadness that we announce the death of John Byrne. We will miss him tremendously. John was one of the most inventive and versatile of all Scotland’s modern artists. The family are grateful for your understanding of their need for privacy. pic.twitter.com/UZXUzh8ceF
— The Fine Art Society (@TheFineArtSoc) December 1, 2023
The artist grew up in Paisley and worked as a slab boy, mixing paint for the designers at AF Stoddard & Co carpet factory after leaving school.
In 1958 he was accepted to study at Glasgow School of Art (GSA) and later returned to AF Stoddard as a carpet designer, teaching evening classes at GSA.
The society’s statement added: “Born in Paisley and trained at the Glasgow School of Art, his own image was a signature of Scotland.
“He recreated it over and over in the self-portraits which made his finely cultivated appearance instantly recognisable, wreathed in cigarette smoke, his hooded, often sleep-deprived eyes twinkling with self-aware amusement.
“‘Paisley Buddies are, to a man and a woman, total oddballs. I should know, I’m one of them,’ John said once.
“But it was an oddity seen through a prism of the fantastic and John made magic out of himself.”
Tributes have been paid to Byrne on social media, including by Scotland’s former first minister Nicola Sturgeon.
She said on X, formerly Twitter: “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 Xmas card. My condolences to his loved ones.”
Current First Minister Humza Yousaf wrote on X: “There are not the words to do justice to the talents of John Byrne.
“An extraordinary playwright, artist and designer. Scotland has lost a cultural icon, and the world is less brighter with his passing.
“My thoughts are with his wife Jeanine, family, friends & all who loved him.”
Artist Alison Watt tweeted: “So very sad to hear of the death of the brilliant John Byrne. Supremely gifted as an artist and playwright, generous, funny and the most stylish man I’ve ever met.”
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.
Paintings of famous figures including Byrne’s former partner, Tilda Swinton, and Sir Billy 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.”
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, including his friends Sir Billy and Rafferty.
Steve Carson, director of BBC Scotland, said: “We’re sad to hear of the passing of John Byrne. John was an incredibly gifted artist, across so many disciplines.
“He created the acclaimed drama series Trutti Frutti for BBC Scotland and then followed with Your Cheatin’ Heart, alongside several other BBC TV network dramas.
“He will be greatly missed across the cultural landscape in Scotland and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.”
As a writer, Byrne is perhaps best known for the 1987 six-part drama Tutti Frutti, starring the late Robbie Coltrane and Dame Emma Thompson.
The story of a Scottish rock ‘n’ roll band won six Baftas, including the best actress award for Dame Emma. It was also made into a stage play in 2006.
Byrne’s other drama credits include 1990’s Your Cheatin’ Heart.
GSA director Professor Penny Macbeth said: “We are saddened to hear of the death of our alumnus, John Byrne.
“John Byrne had a seminal influence on Scottish culture and society, both as an acclaimed artist and an award-winning playwright and theatre maker.
“He was and will continue to be an inspiration to generations of GSA students as well as to the wider creative community. He will be much missed.
“Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.”