A Life In Pictures Alasdair Gray

Canongate, 2010, 304p

 A Life In Pictures cover

This is not an autobiography but a visual chronology of Alasdair Gray’s life. His earliest days are seen in photographs; after his artistic ability became apparent those paintings, drawings, leaflets, book covers, murals etc of which a record remains have all been reproduced in the book, each annotated with the date it was made and the medium he used. One chapter is devoted to the work of Alan Fletcher, a friend of his from Art School, who died young.

Accompanying the pictures are some explanatory words (which only incidentally add up to a potted biography.) Gray seems always to have been a not strictly representational artist – at school an art teacher told him his shadows were wrong or not present; he adopted multi-perspective views. He did attend the Glasgow School of Art, his peers recognising Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece as a wonderful building for their purposes but none of them having been made aware of its designer nor that he had been Scottish until informed by a foreign visitor. That circumstance is almost incomprehensible today. Gray complains of the tutors being hidebound, wedded to the principles of Ruskin, uncaring (ignorant?) of Modern Art, with no mention of the Colourists, as a result of which he and his contemporaries were effectively reinventing earlier modes. There was too an implicit lack of encouragement, no idea of the possibility of making a living as an artist in Scotland. (Arguably there was none at that time.) It was only because Gray was not accepted into the Painting Department for his third year that he took up his signature murals. That seems to me to hang over all his later work as his style is distinctive, even his portraits display that blockiness. So, in a lesser way, do the few landscapes he has painted, which are not as obviously Gray works as the paintings and murals are. Many of his paintings actually remain unfinished since he did not have sufficient time to devote to completing them.

The book is, of course, a feast for the eyes but the text is marred by a few typos. (Proof reading such a complex project cannot have been easy, though.) It does not exist for the text however.

At time of writing Gray is still at work on the huge commission to adorn the walls and ceiling of the Oran Mor Arts and Leisure Centre at the top of Byres Road, Glasgow.

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