Trib­utes as Glas­gow gi­ant dies aged 85

We re­visit our in­ter­view with Alas­dair Gray ear­lier this month ... in­clud­ing un­pub­lished ex­cerpts

Evening Times - - NEWS - BY CARO­LINE WIL­SON

SCOT­LAND’S First Min­is­ter led trib­utes to “lit­er­ary gi­ant” Alas­dair Gray, who died just one day after his 85th birth­day in his na­tive Glas­gow.

The au­thor and artist, who was born in Rid­drie, passed away yes­ter­day morning at the Queen Elizabeth Uni­ver­sity Hospital, sur­rounded by fam­ily.

Ni­cola Stur­geon said Gray had “helped cre­ate the Glas­gow of our imag­i­na­tion” and spoke of her love for the novel Poor Things, which was pub­lished in 1992, 11 years after his most cel­e­brated work, La­nark.

She said: “Such sad news. Alas­dair Gray was one of Scot­land’s lit­er­ary gi­ants, and a de­cent, prin­ci­pled hu­man be­ing.

“He’ll be re­mem­bered best for the master­piece that is La­nark, but ev­ery­thing he wrote re­flected his bril­liance. To­day, we mourn the loss of a ge­nius, and think of his fam­ily.”

Trainspot­ting au­thor Irvine Welsh tweeted: “Alas­dair Gray was a unique tal­ent. In La­nark, and 1982 Ja­nine es­pe­cially, he wrote two of the great­est Scot­tish nov­els and in­flu­enced a cre­ative gen­er­a­tion. #RIP.”

Glas­gow School of Art (GSA), where Gray stud­ied de­sign and mu­ral paint­ing from 195257, said Scot­land had lost a “cul­tural le­gend”.

In a state­ment it said: “The Glas­gow School of Art is sad­dened to hear of the death of writer, artist and GSA alum­nus Alas­dair Gray just one day after his 85th birth­day.

“His con­tri­bu­tion to Scot­tish lit­er­a­ture and art was re­mark­able. We have lost a cul­tural le­gend.”

“Our thoughts are with his fam­ily at this sad time.”

In a state­ment shared by pub­lisher Canon­gate, his fam­ily, in­clud­ing son An­drew, said: “Alas­dair was an ex­tra­or­di­nary per­son; very tal­ented and, even more im­por­tantly, very hu­mane.

“He was unique and ir­re­place­able and we will miss him greatly. We would like to thank Alas­dair’s many friends for their love and sup­port, es­pe­cially in re­cent years, to­gether with the staff of the Queen Elizabeth hospital, Glas­gow, who treated him and us with such care and sen­si­tiv­ity dur­ing his short ill­ness. In keep­ing with his prin­ci­ples Alas­dair wanted his body do­nated to med­i­cal sci­ence, so there will be no fu­neral.”

Alex Kapra­nos, front­man of Glas­gow band Franz Fer­di­nand, said: “I can’t truly com­mu­ni­cate how huge an in­spi­ra­tion he was.

“From the Glas­gow of La­nark which was si­mul­ta­ne­ously fa­mil­iar and fan­tas­ti­cal to his pow­er­ful and dis­tinc­tive mu­rals.

“If you haven’t al­ready, go and read him now.”

Au­thor Ian Rankin also paid trib­ute on Twit­ter, post­ing: “Re­mem­ber­ing Alas­dair Gray by read­ing his words and look­ing at his art. He’s gone; they re­main.”

Born on December 28, 1934, to Alexan­der and Amy, Gray was evac­u­ated to a farm in Auchter­arder, Perth and Kin­ross, dur­ing the Sec­ond World War along with his mother and younger sis­ter, and then to Stone­house in La­nark­shire.

From 1942 to 1945 the fam­ily lived in York­shire, where his fa­ther was work­ing, be­fore they re­turned to Glas­gow where the young Gray at­tended Whitehill Sec­ondary School, re­ceiv­ing prizes for art and English.

He at­tended Glas­gow School of Art from 1952-57 and went on to make his liv­ing from writ­ing, paint­ing and teach­ing.

It was in the 1950s that he be­gan writ­ing what would be­come the novel La­nark, which was pub­lished in 1981 to great crit­i­cal ac­claim, win­ning a Scot­tish Arts Coun­cil book award and the Scot­tish Book of the Year award.

He worked as a the­atri­cal scene painter for the Glas­gow Pavil­ion and Cit­i­zens the­atres in 1962-63.

In 1977 he was Glas­gow’s of­fi­cial artist-recorder for the Peo­ple’s Palace lo­cal his­tory mu­seum, paint­ing por­traits of con­tem­po­raries and `streetscap­es of the city.

More re­cently he painted a huge mu­ral on the ceil­ing of the Au­di­to­rium at the Oran Mor, in the city’s West End.

The own­ers of the venue said they were “deeply sad­dened” by his pass­ing and added: “Glas­gow has lost a lit­tle of its sparkle to­day.”

He was an ex­tra­or­di­nary per­son; very tal­ented and very hu­mane

AT the General Elec­tion, Alas­dair Gray voted Labour.

“In the past,

I wrote a num­ber of pam­phlets sup­port­ing the Scot­tish Na­tional Party, and if I were to write a pam­phlet now, which I thought of do­ing, it would be highly crit­i­cal of the Scot­tish Na­tional Party. I am a big sup­porter of in­de­pen­dence but I rather re­gret the fact that the party in Holy­rood is not tak­ing what strikes me as a prop­erly in­de­pen­dent line.”

Later that day, his pre­dic­tions of a “con­tin­u­a­tion of a Tory Prime Min­is­ter in West­min­ster” – de­scribed as a “de­press­ing thought” – turned out to be very much true.

Gray had seen a few elec­tions in his time – he was 84 when we spoke to him, and died aged 85. He had just been awarded a life­time achieve­ment award for his con­tri­bu­tion to Scot­tish lit­er­a­ture by the Saltire So­ci­ety.

“I feel very pleased about the award,” Alas­dair said, “be­cause I am not likely to be writ­ing an­other novel, or work of fic­tion, or even play. My next book will be a trans­la­tion of Dante’s Par­adise, out next year.

“All I’ve to do is to de­sign the cover of it. I was sur­prised that Canon­gate were in­ter­ested in pub­lish­ing the first trans­la­tion. My wife thought it was a waste of time.”

Born in Rid­drie, east Glas­gow, Gray stud­ied at the Glas­gow School of Art. Be­tween 1972 and 1974, he be­longed to a writ­ing group or­gan­ised by Philip Hob­s­baum along­side James Kel­man, Liz Lochhead and Tom Leonard among oth­ers.

“When Els­beth King was the cu­ra­tor of the Peo­ple’s Palace of Glas­gow, the Labour gov­ern­ment brought in a job cre­ation scheme and El­speth had the idea of em­ploy­ing me to do paint­ings for the lo­cal his­tory mu­seum,” he said.

“This was a steady wage, although not big. I had to give it up when I had a chance to get a job as writer in res­i­dence at the uni­ver­sity. My son needed speech ther­apy. I sent him to a pri­vate school. We were get­ting be­hind with the fees for it, oth­er­wise I would have kept on do­ing it.”

He was the Uni­ver­sity of Glas­gow’s writer in res­i­dence from 1977 to 1979, along­side Tom Leonard and James Kel­man.

Ac­cord­ing to the Liveli­hoods of Vis­ual Artists data re­port, pub­lished this year, artists earn an an­nual salary av­er­age of £16,150, of which £6020 comes from their art prac­tice. Two thirds earn less than £5,000 from their art and seven in 10 artists take on ad­di­tional jobs to make ends meet. I ask what he thinks about the fact that only al­ready wealthy peo­ple could work as artists, based on those salaries. “That’s largely al­ways been the case,” he said. “Most no­table artists came from fam­i­lies that could sup­port them ini­tially.”

Gray was not from a wealthy fam­ily. “Most of my por­traits were from sit­tings. It was good to pre­serve the things that we lost,” he said,

“I wanted to cre­ate an even pic­ture that was equal to ev­ery­one, so I painted a fig­ure from all the po­lit­i­cal par­ties,” turn­ing a page to a pic­ture of Jimmy Reid sur­rounded by his daugh­ters. “He was very nice. His fam­ily were also.”

In this year, Gray cap­tured many an­gles of an old Glas­gow; typ­ists on their break, buskers, his son An­drew laz­ing in a park – along­side big­ger fig­ures, like prom­i­nent politi­cians, cler­gy­men and celebri­ties.

“I couldn’t bring my­self to paint my old school and I had to get a friend of mine to do it.” Gray pointed to a red brick build­ing. “I don’t know why I couldn’t paint it. I liked a lot of that school.”

Gray’s mu­rals are still dot­ted around Glas­gow. His work in the Oran Mor on Byres Road is one of the largest works of art in Scot­land.

Rather than wind­ing down, Gray ap­peared in his last weeks to be do­ing the op­po­site. As we spoke, a pile of hand de­signed Christ­mas cards – his “lit­er­ary squir­rels” – were wait­ing to be signed.

“If I were work­ing more, I’d be paint­ing more. I have such a lot of works to fin­ish,” he said.

“I’m afraid I spend such a long time over things. In the past, it was easy not to rush since not many peo­ple bought pic­tures from me. I wasn’t well known.”

It is a state­ment that could be dis­puted. Gray started writ­ing La­nark, his most fa­mous book, in 1954 whilst a stu­dent. Even­tu­ally pub­lished in 1981 by Canon­gate, La­nark was an im­me­di­ate hit. It is now re­garded as both Glas­gow’s epic and a lit­er­ary clas­sic.

I tell him that I be­lieve him to be one of the first peo­ple to ren­der Glas­gow and its in­hab­i­tants in ro­man­tic art. “I am glad that you think so,” he said. “I cer­tainly wanted to.” We both agree that it is a work­ing city, but a beau­ti­ful place. If he lived in some­where like

Liv­ing here most of my life has made it spe­cial – like Lon­don for Dick­ens

Manch­ester, would that artis­tic re­la­tion­ship stay the same?

“I’m sure it would, yes,” he said. “The fact I’ve lived here most of my life has made it spe­cial, like Lon­don was for Dick­ens.”

Gray has spent the last years amidst trans­la­tions of Dante, but it is not his first foray into the trans­la­tor’s re­mit. Il­lus­tra­tions of his ver­sion of T S Eliot’s The Hip­popota­mus adorned his bed­room walls. After a lengthy bat­tle with the copy­right from the Eliot es­tate, he trans­lated the poem into Scots. “No one would think to look,” he laughed.

I asked why he was no longer writ­ing orig­i­nal prose. Was he suf­fer­ing writer’s block?

“A writer’s block is one in which, like con­sti­pa­tion, a writer feels there is some­thing in them that they can’t get out.

“I don’t feel that at all. I have noth­ing in me that I can get out.”

My fi­nal ques­tion was to ask him, after all his decades cre­at­ing, what he has learned. He is a lit­tle stumped.

“It’s a funny ques­tion to an­swer.” In an Amer­i­can ac­cent he laughed, “to thine own self be true – and never wres­tle with heavy ma­chin­ery”.

“I hope, after ev­ery­thing, that I’ve learned how to be an artist. Hon­estly, that’s all.”

Glas­gow’s Alas­dair Gray passed away at the Queen Elizabeth Uni­ver­sity Hospital a day after turn­ing 85

Alas­dair Gray re­flected on his life when we spoke to him at the start of December

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