Alasdair Gray

About the artist ↓

About the artist - Alasdair Gray

Whilst Alasdair Gray is often thought of as a writer before an artist, his endeavours in literature and art have both arisen from a deep-felt need for self-expression. Described by novelist Will Self as a ‘creative polymath with an integrated politico-philosophical vision,’ Gray is a cultural icon in Scotland who has influenced literature, art and politics throughout the second half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.

Born in 1934 in Riddrie, east Glasgow, Gray’s father worked in a factory and his mother in a shop. During the Second World War he was evacuated to Perthshire and then to Lanarkshire. Gray studied at Glasgow School of Art from 1952 to 1957 and then taught there from 1958 to 1962. He began working on his first novel, Lanark, whilst a student, although the complete four-part book was not published until 1981. It was greeted by huge critical acclaim and won a Scottish Arts Council Book Award and the Scottish Book of the Year Award. Melding fantasy, social realism and autobiography into a surreal Bildungsroman, the novel narrates the history of a young artist living in an imagined, dystopian city based on Glasgow. Lanark opened up new ground in modern Scottish literature and is often cited as the most significant novel to emerge from the country in the twentieth century. Since Lanark, Gray has authored more than 40 titles, including further novels, plays and books of poetry. 

After graduating Gray worked as a scene and portrait painter and his first plays were broadcast on radio and television in 1968. In 1977 to 1978 Gray worked for the People’s Palace, Glasgow, as the city’s ‘artist recorder,’ a role that was funded through a job creation scheme set up by the Labour government of the time. During this period Gray produced hundreds of drawings of the city including portraits of politicians, artists, workers and members of the public. In 2001, along with Tom Leonard and James Kelman, Gray became joint Professor of the Creative Writing programme at Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities. Together, they were known as the ‘3 Profs’.

Having trained as a muralist, Gray has undertaken many important commissions in public locations included in the Ubiquitous Chip restaurant and Hillhead subway station, both in Glasgow’s West End. His ceiling mural in the auditorium of the Oran Mor theatre on Byres Road, Glasgow, is one of the largest works of art in Scotland. In 2012 Gray published A Life in Pictures, a part autobiography, part history, part catalogue raisonné, account of his life and work. He is currently working on illustrations for a new translation of Danté’s The Divine Comedy.

Gray’s work is held in many public collections including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow; the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh; the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow; and the Arts Council of England collection. 

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