GLASGOW Print Studio is exhibiting the first showing of 12 new prints by one of Scotland’s best-loved and prolific artists, John Byrne.

A professional artist since the 1960s, he has come a long way since he sold his first painting for a tenner at the age of 22 to an Irish sailor while a student at the Glasgow School of Art. Emily Walsh, managing director of the Fine Art Society Edinburgh, recently described Byrne as “one of the most inventive and contrary artists working in Scotland today”.

With his work held in major collections in Scotland and abroad, several of Byrne’s paintings now feature in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, the Museum of Modern Art in Glasgow and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

The exhibition at the Glasgow Print Studio, where Byrne has used the facilities since the 1970s, consists of twelve new one-of-a-kind monotype prints. They showcase his typical raw wit and elegant draughtsmanship. All but three are self-portraits, with two depicting Phil and Spanky, the titular Slab Boys of Byrne’s landmark 1978 play set in a Paisley carpet factory.

Another shows a hand with a face in the palm, its wrist tattooed with anchors, hearts and roses. Another disembodied hand points at this hand, like a cocked gun.

“This all sounds really interesting – I am really looking forward to seeing this show, to find out what out what I did,” Byrne laughs from his home in Edinburgh.

The hand, he says, is another self-portrait of sorts.

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“I did these all very, very quickly as I trust my hands more than I trust my brain,” he says. “Perhaps there’s a very small brain in my hand. It just took off by itself and did a hand, a portrait of itself. That’s all I really remember about doing it.”

It’s been a very busy year or so for Byrne, now 78. Last summer, in celebration of the 75th birthday of Billy Connolly, a 50-foot mural based on a Byrne portrait of the Big Yin was unveiled at Glasgow’s Old Wynd, one of three to appear around the city, with the other two based on work by Rachel Maclean and Jack Vettriano.

A long-standing pal of Connolly, Byrne designed the set for his Great Northern Welly Boot Show in 1972 and his much-admired 1974 portrait of Connolly is now owned by Glasgow museums. At the end of 2017, his Say It With A Kiss painting featured in homes all over Scotland when it was chosen by First Minister and genuine Byrne fan Nicola Sturgeon as her Christmas card.

There was also Lullaby Of Broadway, Byrne’s fifth solo exhibition at the Fine Art Society in London, a show at Aberdeen’s Rendezvous Gallery and The Boy and The Jabberwock, a retrospective of sorts at the Fine Art Society in Edinburgh.

That exhibition sourced works from Byrne’s long career, including Self-Portrait with Sea Shells, a 1992 painting described by one art critic as “a surrealist masterpiece”.

“There were works that came from all over the place,” says Byrne. “It was very interesting to see them all again. That one from 1992 – I had painted it in a Wasps studio in Glasgow.

‘‘It had been a garment factory at one time, in a part of the east end that we called ‘the twilight zone’. I remember once being in a phone box around there around three o’clock in the morning and there was a man outside with either a doberman or an American pit bull. I was worried for my soul. It was pretty scary. But that was ‘the twilight zone’.”

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Byrne explains that, for the Glasgow Print Studio show, a member of staff who also lives in Edinburgh would helpfully take work back and forth between the cities, allowing the artist uninterrupted time at his studio at home, where he works seven days a week.

As Byrne told a newspaper preview of his Aberdeen show, he can only envisage a time without painting when he’s dead. Painting, it seems, is his very life blood.

“Thankfully, I am not infirm,” he says with a tone of seriousness. “I work every day, from morning to night. I love that, that’s when I’m at my happiest. I absolutely concentrate and get lost in my work. It’s better for you than sitting around the pub twiddling your thumbs.”

Jeanine Davies, his lighting designer wife, often has to call on him repeatedly when he’s needed, he says.

“I’ll be so lost in my work. I’ll just always be working away, whether I’ve got an exhibition on or not. I listen to the wireless while I’m working.

‘‘The wireless has always been present throughout my life. It’s very, very informative, and often just delightful. I can listen to a play and hear every word of it while I’m working. My work and the wireless are the only two necessities I have, really.”

It’s a reminder that, as well as his prolific art work, Byrne has a parallel career as a writer for the stage and – surprisingly for someone who doesn’t own a TV – the small screen. In 1986, he wrote the hugely successful TV series Tutti Frutti, starring Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson and Richard Wilson. This was followed by another popular series, Your Cheatin’ Heart, which stared ex-partner Tilda Swinton, mother of two of his four children.

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All are rightly revered as landmarks of Scottish contemporary culture alongside Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, Alasdair Gray’s Lanark and The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black Black Oil.

Byrne’s seven-foot high stage designs for the original 7:84 production of the latter in the 1970s can be seen in National Library of Scotland. He designed all the stage art for his plays, including 2015’s revival of The Slab Boys at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre.

The play, which recalls Byrne’s own time working at AF Stobo’s carpet factory, made its stage debut in 1978 at the Traverse in Edinburgh. Veteran Scottish theatre critic, Joyce McMillan, described the showing as one of the three or four “breath-taking moments” of her career when “theatre utterly transformed my image of Scottishness, and my sense of myself as a Scot; not by giving me something completely new, but by making me see something that had always been there”.

Tantalisingly, Byrne says that a new drama piece is coming soon, though “it might possibly not be in Scotland”.

“There is something new, indeed there is,” he offers, before keeping his cards close to his chest.

“It’s something that I originally wrote a long time ago now. It looks as if finally, it might get off the ground now, after about 12 or 13 years. I’m investing a lot of my writing time in that piece. I’m sure you’ll see something about it soon – perhaps later this year. You’ll just have to wait and see.”

Two of the works currently showing at the Print Studio are titled The Yellow Hat. The only works depicting two figures, they show Byrne on the left in a dapper dark green jacket and checked yellow hat, its brim and his white whiskers framing a face that’s seen almost eight decades. Stubby cigarette in his mouth, he looks side-on to a figure on the right, the sharper features of youth set elegantly on smooth cheeks.

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“That’s old me looking at the me of hundreds of centuries ago,” he says light-heartedly. “It was such a long, long time ago. Or maybe it was just the other day. Time plays tricks on us. You wake up and discover that you’re much much older than what you think you are. You change, almost surreptitiously.”

Painting self-portraits, most artists’ first subject, is a way of exploring and cataloguing a life, he says.

“It’s a rare artist that doesn’t do at least the odd self-portrait, and I’ve done quite a lot,” he says, laughing again. “When you look back and see them, it reminds you of the things you were doing or not doing at that time, as the case may be. You see how you’ve progressed, or failed to have progressed.”

He continues: “Then your hair turns white, it all turns white. And wrinkles appear, as if from nowhere. If you put them end-to-end, you’d get my life story. Whether or not that’s interesting for other people to look at is for them to decide. It’s interesting to me, at least.”

Memorably described by The New Statesman as “Paisley’s first postmodernist”, an accolade you suspect he finds both slightly ridiculous and a huge bit hilarious, Byrne has never put much stock in current trends, whether its in his writing, his distinctly unfashionable narrative paintings, or the clothes he wears.

While he is most comfortable in “jeans and a sloppy joe” when working, the Byrne he presents out and about is dapper and dandy, a more distinguished take on the teddy boy style of those carpet factory slab boys in their best weekend gear.

The National asks if being named as Scotland’s Most Stylish Man at the recent Style Awards amused him.

“I did find it funny, yes,” he says. “I was so surprised, so surprised. It was totally out the blue and the last thing I’d imagined. But it was all very good fun.”

Byrne, much of whose carefully-selected wardrobe consists of prize-finds at charity shops, adds: “I dress for myself, I wear things that make me feel comfortable, and generally, I think I go about unnoticed. If I dressed for anyone else, I certainly wouldn’t have been there.”

The John Byrne exhibition at Glasgow Print Studio runs until May (closing date TBC) from10am to 5.30pm, Tues to Sat, Sun noon to 5.30pm, closed Mondays, free.