Bill Birrell was born in Glasgow in 1945, a period of austerity and optimism. His mother, Agnes instilled in Bill a love of art, music and literature. His older brother, Ronald was a gifted draughtsman and they were both encouraged by their Mother. Later Ronnie, who also studied at Glasgow School of Art, gave much encouragement to Bill. In secondary school Bill began to excel at Art, even winning a diploma from the Moscow Academy of Arts for a winter landscape in a travelling exhibition.
Bill studied at the Glasgow School of Art from 1964 - 66 and 1968 - 70. He spent the two intervening years working as a graphic artist in Toronto, Canada.
While he was a student at Glasgow he started to show paintings at the Royal Glasgow Institute and through a friend he met Cyril Gerber, a Glasgow art dealer who showed an interest in his work. Later he exhibited often at Gerber's Compass Gallery. While at Glasgow School of Art he began to develop his unique style, a private world of prosaic clarity, where figures are real in an uneasy world. His figures are not crude, cartoon-like social comments on an imperfect society. They are however, populating a world with a strange, unfamiliar atmosphere. Within some of the works there is a sense of oppression, of being trapped, of isolation and even fear. His work is difficult to categorise. Subjects are sometimes historical, surrealist or symbolist or a combination of these. It is often figures in rooms or landscapes, usually female, creating a potent atmosphere of disquiet.
Another important event in Bill Birrell's life was a film about his work by James Morrison. It was made by Scottish Television in 1989 and stressed his uniqueness and his separation from the Scottish establishment.
As well as being a graphic artist Birrell taught Art at the Knightswood School for many years.
In a well established career he has exhibited in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Toronto and Geneva.
I have always drawn and painted in a figurative or fairly realist style. It seems natural and normal for me to do this, I see the world with realist eyes and I do not feel the need to change this or rebel against it.
I did not get on well with my tutors at Art School. To me they used alien styles; French Impressionist or Abstract Expressionist. I admired early Renaissance painters such as Piero Della Francesca, Piero Di Cosimo or Fra Angelico. The modern painters I liked were Stanley Spencer, Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, Balthus and Lucien Freud. I liked individualists and the English seemed to produce a lot of them.
I like to paint pictures which make you think, I try to create an atmosphere in my paintings. My favourite atmosphere is an uneasy disquiet and I use historical symbols sometimes to portray a threat.I use the running figure to create a contrast with stillness.I like to capture a moment in time and keep it prisoner forever.I like the subtle expressions on a face hiding the true feelings. Of course, I will never be able to capture it all, but I enjoy trying! I also like to illustrate personal events; my figures are not real people, they are manufactured from friends, relatives, students and photographs etc.
Often my paintings make me feel an all pervading loneliness. When this happens I feel I have been successful. My aim is that they are slowly analysed and discovered, the meaning becomes apparent through the passage of time.