A ‘larger than life’ tribute to The Big Yin, launched by BBC Scotland in conjunction with Glasgow City Council and Glasgow Life, will literally make Billy Connolly part of the architecture of his home city on a major scale.
Three representations of the comedian, who turns 75 this year, from original works by top Scottish artists will go up on walls dotted across Glasgow city centre.
The works – which will all be more than 50ft high – are depictions from specially created portraits of Billy by artists John Byrne, Jack Vettriano and Rachel Maclean, who is currently representing Scotland in the Venice Biennale.
John Byrne has created a portrait of Billy as he is now, which will go on a wall end in Osborne Street, while a Jack 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.
A Rachel Maclean digital print of Billy – in a specially created outfit, replete 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.
The work is being carried out this month in conjunction with Glasgow City Council’s City Centre Mural Trail project and the originals will go on display in the People’s Palace. And they will be showcased in Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime.
Billy Connolly has been fully on board throughout and central to the whole project, meeting and sitting for the artists and has 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.”
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 to them – in all their glory in the programme.”
The programme will show clips of highlights from Billy’s career, and Billy meeting the artists to talk about life, work, comedy and inspiration.
Rachel 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 this kind of national treasure within Scotland.”
Jack Vettriano admits to being “a huge fan”. His depiction is called Dr Connolly, I Presume? while Byrne’s is simply named Billy Connolly.
An old friend, who famously painted a portrait of Billy in the 1970s, John Byrne pays tribute to him in the programme as “a phenomenon”. Byrne added: “He is a one-off. He is larger than life.”
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: “The Glasgow City Centre Mural Trail has showcased outstanding artwork at all types of locations, attracting worldwide interest. Many visitors come to Glasgow city centre to see these murals, and 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, and we can all look forward to seeing these fantastic images of the man himself in the city centre.”
Head of Glasgow Museums, Duncan Dornan said: “We are delighted to be able to show Rachel Maclean, Jack Vettriano and John Byrne’s striking images of Billy Connolly at the People’s Palace from June 15.
“Billy Connolly needs no introduction to the people of Glasgow. His boundless talent as a comedian, actor and presenter makes him one of Scotland’s most famous sons and so it is fitting these extraordinary works of art, commemorating this significant birthday, are to be displayed in Glasgow for the city’s people and visitors to enjoy.
“This bolsters the rich relationship Glasgow Museums continues to enjoy with Billy. Last year, the People’s Palace was lucky enough to host an exhibition of his artwork and some of the most popular exhibits at the museum are memorabilia from Billy’s early career, making it the perfect venue for this exhibition.
“We look forward to seeing the forthcoming show and city murals and to welcoming people to the museum to enjoy the artworks of Billy through the ages up close.”