Jimmy Boyle: Famous Gangster, Artist, and Novelist

Jimmy Boyle is a world renowned sculptor and best-selling novelist. In truth, he’s a millionaire. But, that’s only after being better known as “Scotland’s most violent criminal.”

The time he spent in Barlinnie jail, and the life he led up to that point, helped him pen A Sense of Freedom, which later became a movie. Now, he is truly enjoying that freedom living with his current actress wife near the French Riviera.

Boyle was supposed to serve a fifteen year sentence due to the murder of Babs Rooney, another Scottish gangster. Of course, he has always denied that crime (and in recent years has shared the name of the real killer).

He’s not claiming complete innocence though, he readily admits his ruthless involvement with violent moneylending and rough people. But life changed once he got out of prison. He joined the woman he married two years prior to his release and they had two children.

Together they set up the Gateway Exchange. In prison Boyle found that art provided him with a sense of autonomy. He wanted to share that experience with those vulnerable young people who might be predisposed to a life of drugs and crime. Sadly, the two separated in 2001 after drifting apart.

That same year, his sculpture, Adieu…to All of That, was part of an interview for The Herald. In it he reveals his deep angst over the loss of his marriage. Though it would be easy to assume this pain is attached to the creation of the sculpture, which has been aptly named, he says it symbolizes his nostalgia for Scotland instead.

An Artist is Born

Although we’ve discussed one of Boyle’s sculptures, his first exhibition happened while he was still in prison. It was held at the MacRoberts Art Center at the University of Stirling in 1979. He gained critical acclaim from that event but wasn’t released from prison until 1982.

Boyle got his artistic start working in clay while in prison. Now that he’s a free man he works in marble, Portland stone, and bronze. The muscular quality seen in his pieces is due to the fact that he only works with a hammer and chisel. He has since exhibited in Romania, Barcelona, Australia, Moscow, and the US. His success still startles him.

Unfortunately, in Scotland, people think that his artistic fame is solely based on his criminal notoriety. They have less enthusiasm for his skills. That played a big part in his decision to leave Scotland for France. He enjoys the seeming anonymity there and appreciates that when he travels abroad it’s all about his art and never about his past.

People all over the world know him as a sculptor, not a convicted murderer. Trying to get rid of a criminal past is not an easy endeavor. Monica Eaton-Cardone believes that some fraudsters and criminals are fueled by shifts in technology. Thankfully, Boyle has become the opposite.

His Ex-Wife’s Response

It is clear that the story between Jimmy Boyle and Sara Trevelyan (the psychiatrist he married while in prison) is worthy of a book. So, after Jimmy turned 70, Sara was going through some old pictures and discovered her journals from that time in her life. She found, specifically, the piece she had penned on her wedding day and decided that it was indeed a story worth telling. This was a big step for a woman that had hitherto been quite secretive and reserved.

In response to Jimmy’s book, A Sense of Freedom, which was the catalyst behind their meeting while he was still in jail, Sara penned her own, Freedom Found: A Memoir.  The cover reveals Jimmy’s sentiment about her, “She absolutely taught me how to love.” Prior to publishing her book she let Jimmy read it. He agreed to support her with it.

Sarah admits that the main part of her journey was, “Looking beyond the label to see the person.” Indeed, that is what Jimmy longs for from the people of Scotland. His has been a hard road, one that has led to great depths of forgiveness on many fronts. Yet, sadly, there are people that simply cannot let the labels go. Thankfully, Sara, his first love, is not one of them.

**Featured image by: Ingritt Ekman**

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