THE city of Glasgow will be awash with life-sized tributes to the Big Yin created by top Scottish artists as part of the comedy legend’s 75th birthday celebrations.
Original portraits of Billy Connolly by John Byrne, Jack Vettriano and Rachel Maclean, who is currently representing Scotland in the Venice Biennale, have been commissioned by BBC Scotland, in conjunction with Glasgow Life.
Three specially created portraits of the comedian, which will all be more than 16m (50ft) high, will go up on walls dotted across the city centre area.
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Byrne has created a portrait of Billy as he is now, which will go on an end wall in Osborne Street, while a Vettriano painting from the comedian’s World Tour of Scotland series in 1994, featuring a windblown Billy on a storm-lashed coast near John O’Groats, will be showcased in Dixon Street.
Maclean’s digital print of Connolly – in a specially created outfit, complete with motifs from his career such as “mini bike parked in bum” epaulettes, a sporran with an ‘aged’ nose sprouting hair and make-up reflecting his famous ‘pale blue Scotsman’ joke, with representations of Glasgow life past and present in the background – will go up in the Gallowgate.
Connolly has been fully on board throughout the project, meeting and sitting for the artists. He has also seen and is delighted with all three original artworks.
He said: “I’m probably more famous for being a Glaswegian than anything else I’ve actually done. It’s been great to have been home to take part in this and a real privilege to be part of these artists’ work.”
The work is being carried out this month in conjunction with Glasgow City Council’s City Centre Mural Trail project. The originals will go on display in the People’s Palace, and they will be showcased in a specially commissioned BBC Scotland programme Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime, to be transmitted early next month.
Pauline Law, executive producer at BBC Studios Pacific Quay Productions, said: “The project is a tribute to a man who is an international star and national treasure but who still remains in touch with his Glaswegian roots.
“He is renowned for his comedy and way with words but we thought it might also be fitting to celebrate his visual and artistic heritage. His artistic side – both as someone who makes artworks and as someone who appreciates art – isn’t so well known but Billy Connolly has undoubtedly become part of the culture of our times; a visual as well as a comedy icon.
“What comes through loud and clear from the project and the programme is that Billy’s early years in Glasgow fuelled a lot of his comedy, his appreciation of art and his outlook on life.
“Through these three artists, we have a fun but also a thoughtful tribute to Billy Connolly, the man and his life. We will be revealing the portraits – and the work that led up them – in all their glory in the programme.”
To be shown on BBC One Scotland, it will include clips of highlights from Connolly’s career, and his meetings with the artists to talk about life, work, comedy and inspiration.
Maclean, whose work is called Big Yin, said: “I think there is a kind of responsibility representing Billy because he is so well-known … he is a kind of national treasure within Scotland.”
Vettriano admits to being “a huge fan”. His depiction, above, is called Dr Connolly I Presume? while Byrne’s, below, is simply named Billy Connolly.
Byrne, an old friend, who famously painted a portrait of Connolly in the 1970s, describes him during the programme as “ a phenomenon”.
Byrne added: “He is a one-off. He is larger than life.”
The portraits will be part of the council’s City Centre Mural Trail. In the wake of the programme’s transmission, the original artworks will be showcased at the People’s Palace, alongside excerpts from the documentary.
Jane Laiolo, group manager for city centre regeneration at Glasgow City Council, said: “What better person to feature on the mural trail than someone as synonymous with Glasgow as Billy Connolly? These pieces from renowned Scottish artists will be great additions to the trail.”