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Poet portrait unveiled by National Galleries

John-Burnside-portrait-001The National Galleries of Scotland will unveil a portrait of renowned Scottish poet and University of St Andrews academic, John Burnside, today (Friday 22 February).

Professor John Burnside, from the School of English, will join artist Alan Lawson in conversation in the stunning Great Hall at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery for the unveiling. Lawson’s oil on linen portrait of Burnside was acquired by the National Galleries of Scotland and will be on display during the evening.

The artist and poet will discuss their own disciplines as well as Lawson’s portrait: how it came about, the symbolism in the painting and the experience of creating it. The conversation will also include poetry readings by Professor Burnside with an opportunity to ask questions.

After working in computer systems design for a decade, Professor Burnside became a full-time writer in 1994. He has been Writer in Residence at the University of Dundee, The British Library and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, amongst others. He has published 14 collections of poetry and has won the Geoffrey Faber Prize, the Whitbread Poetry Prize, the Petrarca Preis and, most recently, the Forward and TS Eliot Prizes for his poetry.

Professor Burnside has also published eight novels and his memoir, A Lie About My Father, received the Saltire Book of the Year Prize, the Sundial/SAC Non-Fiction Book of the Year Award and a CORINE International Literature Prize. A second memoir, Waking Up in Toytown, appeared in 2010, followed by a third, I Put a Spell on You, in 2014. His radio work includes stories, features, political and social comment, and a BBC documentary on the Sami circumpolar festival, Riddu Riddu. His radio work for SWR in Germany has won several awards, including the German Academy of Performing Arts Radio Play of the Year for 2017.

Professor Burnside said: “The portrait came about following meetings with Alan Lawson at a symposium in Venice. Alan had read my work and I was instantly drawn to his. We found we had a great deal in common, especially a fondness for birds. I love the way he has used the bird in the final painting – I feel he has captured something essential about me that doesn’t come across on a casual acquaintance, and it’s a rare and very gratifying feeling, when an artist captures that essential character and makes it visible.

“I’m very excited to see the portrait unveiled in Scotland – the original work was done in Italy, the painting was made in Alan’s studio in Switzerland but it belongs in Scotland and I’m so glad that the Scottish National Portrait Gallery have brought it here.”

The event, John Burnside and Alan Lawson in conversation, takes place on Friday 22 February at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. The event is sold out but there is a waiting list.


Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

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