By Paul Rodger, Arts Editor
Billy Connolly is a name all too synonymous with Scotland’s entertainment scene – having illuminated venues for decades with his colloquial charm and deft wit. However, last month saw the Glasgow born comedian attract crowds again, but with much more different material. At the People’s Palace on 28th August, Billy Connolly – the artist – was introduced to the public, with the opening of the ‘Art of Billy Connolly’ exhibition.
With many people likely completely unaware of his artistic efforts and new found calling, the exhibition – particularly to older generations of fans who will remember him for generating laughter – will offer a look into the more pensive, technical side of Connolly. Speaking modestly of his artistic ventures, Connolly has said, “I don’t want them to be judged. I didn’t want to put them in a position where people would like or dislike them. They’re little pals of mine. I’ll always draw, I’ll always do it”.
Having pursued fine art in 2012, and in the same year signed to one of the UK’s top fine arts publishers – Washington Green – Connolly has been influenced stylistically by the surrealist automatism movement, whereby the artist allows the hand to move freely across the paper, without an intent to create anything specifically. Although posing a certain degree of equilibrium throughout his material, with works included called ‘A Peep at the Past’ (above) and ‘Sharing Secrets’ (below), Connolly’s method presents geometric interwoven lines along with organic, spherical shapes. With his artistic style and execution described as personal, this linear intricacy juxtaposed with benign simplicity in part aptly reflects the enigmatic Connolly – as the viewer considers the identity behind the mummified-like figures in his drawings.
Speaking at the press launch before the opening of the exhibition, Fiona Hayes, curator of Social History at Glasgow Life commented on Connolly’s interest in automatism surrealism: “There’s a very 3D quality to a lot of it as well. It’s almost like going through the pen there’s a sort of basket weaving. Then you can suddenly see there’s a lot of humour in them, and are intensely personal. It is almost like getting a real connection with Billy Connolly; the man, the person.”
As regards to his cultural significance and the potential of his art to continue mirroring his cultural and social consciousness, and partiality of Glasgow life, she continued: “I think because the way they’ve been created, they do have an intensely personal connection. It does reference to him, his life, his growing up – coming from his deep subconscious. It has such a strong connection with the city. I think that comes out as well, even with some of the titles. There’s one called ‘The Glaswegian’, which creates an identity with Glasgow, and he’s still there – maybe not obvious in some of them, but under the surface.”
Asked about her hopes for the exhibition and the potential for it to open up Billy Connolly’s work to a new generation of fans and viewers, Hayes added: “I think this is an opportunity for the people of Glasgow to come and see a different side to Billy, another aspect of his creativity, and just see what he’s been doing in his new 21st century venture. It could bring up a younger audience, because this is so personal to him, and the fact they have been described as “his friends” offers a more intimate glimpse into Billy Connolly. For a new generation coming along and seeing what parents and grandparents have talked about and the impact he had, these are here and are quite accessible to all ages, so you don’t really need to be a great fan of him to still come along to the exhibition. It’s a new expression”.
So for any of you that are fans, are not, or even just want to see what new artistic work Glasgow has on show, the ‘Art of Billy Connolly’ exhibit is one that will engage and intrigue visitors in a way the “Big Yin” has never done before.
* The Art of Billy Connolly exhibition runs from 28th August – 21st February 2016 at the People’s Palace, Glasgow Green. Admission is free.