Alasdair James Gray (28 December 1934 – 29 December 2019) was a Scottish writer and artist. His first novel, Lanark (1981), is seen as a landmark of Scottish fiction. He published novels, short stories, plays, poetry and translations, and wrote on politics and the history of English and Scots literature. His works of fiction combine realism, fantasy, and science fiction with the use of his own typography and illustrations, and won several awards.
After finishing his studies at Glasgow School of Art, Gray painted theatrical scenery for the Glasgow Pavilion and Citizens Theatres and worked as a freelance artist.
His first mural was "Horrors of War" for the Scottish-USSR Friendship Society in Glasgow. In 1964 the BBC made a documentary film, Under the Helmet, about his career to date. Many of his murals have been lost; surviving examples include one in the Ubiquitous Chip restaurant in the West End of Glasgow, and another at Hillhead subway station.
His ceiling mural (in collaboration with Nichol Wheatley) for the auditorium of the Òran Mór venue on Byres Road is one of the largest works of art in Scotland and was painted over several years. It shows Adam and Eve embracing against a night sky, with modern people from Glasgow in the foreground.
From 1977–1978, Gray worked for the People's Palace museum, as Glasgow's "artist recorder", funded by a scheme set up by the Labour government. He produced hundreds of drawings of the city, including portraits of politicians, people in the arts, members of the general public and workplaces with workers. These are now in the collection at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
His paintings and prints are held in the Kelvingrove, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Library of Scotland, the Hunterian Museum, the Arts Council of England collection, and the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History. In 2014–2015 Gray had a major retrospective at the Kelvingrove; over 15,000 people visited the exhibition, which was entitled Alasdair Gray: From The Personal To The Universal. His first solo exhibition in London took place in late 2017 at the Coningsby Gallery in Fitzrovia and the Leyden Gallery in Spitalfields.
Gray said that he found writing tiring, but that painting gave him energy. His visual art often used local or personal details to encompass international or universal truths and themes
Gray's painting 'Bay' (also titled Brodick Bay from the slopes of Goatfell) of 1965 shows a view looking down to Brodick from the path to the summit of Goatfell. This work depicts a perspective rarely seen on the island, as most would paint looking towards the peak. You can see the painting with its long view south, with the Holy Isle and Ailsa Craig on the horizon. The image is based on a photograph taken in National Geographic Magazine.
Alasdair also painted several more landscapes while on Arran in the late 1960s / early 1970s several of which appear in his book 'Life in Pictures'. These largely consist of coastal scenes looking towards the other islands of the Clyde and back to the Ayrshire coast. Alasdair also made several drawings on the island of the Gill family who ran a gallery and print studio which he often exhibited with. One portrait (which was exhibited at the Scottish Gallery's 'Alasdair Gray - The 1950s and 60s drawings' exhibition) is of Steve Gill, the father of our community engagement lead Simon Ross-Gill.
Writing on Arran:
Alasdair's first short story collection was begun on Arran in the village of Pirnmill on the west coast of the island. He returned many times over the years, staying there and in Whiting Bay in subsequent visits. He wrote about this in the Scotsman in 2012:
"The first story in my first collection of short stories – Unlikely Stories, Mostly – was written in the last summer holiday with both my parents on the island of Arran. For two or three years our holiday home was the last house in Pirnmill, a row of houses with primary school and post office on the quietest side of Arran. In long summer holidays there I often regretted having no friend of my own age and sex, yet enjoyed long walks accompanied by my imagination. On the three or four miles of road between Pirnmill and Lochranza the only houses are a low white terrace nicknamed the Twelve Apostles on Catacol Bay.
Just before Catacol the coast road is pinched between the sea cliff and a boulder bigger than a house, steep sided but easily climbable by any boy who likes feeling king of a castle. The top had bushes and turf where I lay one sunny afternoon feeling elevated and private, and here I imagined “The Star” in a gust of what seemed inspiration..." - Alasdair Gray, The Scotsman, 17th November, 2012
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