Jarvis Cocker, in an interview during the height of Britpop, claimed that it had taken Pulp years to become an overnight sensation. While being widely accepted as one of Scotland’s most celebrated writers since the publication of Lanark in 1981, it does feel that Alasdair Gray’s lesser known persona ‘the painter’ is having his time in the artistic limelight and is rightly enjoying it. He has two major exhibitions (at The Scottish Gallery of Modern Art and The Talbot Rice Gallery, both in Edinburgh) to coincide with the publication of his ‘pictorial autobiography’ A Life in Pictures. His appearances on TV, radio and in the national newspapers in the last month reminds those of us who admire the man how he typically relishes confounding and confusing audiences and presenters alike. It would be great to think that we could hear his voice more often but the problem is that those who make those decisions seem to be desperate to get to what’s happening next. If A Life in Pictures tells us one thing it’s that the great artists are not famous for 15 minutes, theirs is a lifetime project.
This is a book that shows and tells, and more than any book of recent times reminds us that art and life and inseparable. You could have had the words without the pictures, or vice versa, but both lift the other to mean more than they would have otherwise.
I’ve written about Alasdair Gray and his debut novel Lanark
elsewhere (see Lanark…
), and if you know his fiction then some of the life story will be familiar. What you may be less familiar with is the art that has not been used to illustrate the plays and stories, so here is just a small selection of his work:
This book is a celebration of life, and not just Gray’s own, but all of those people who influenced and enriched his life. The pages are filled with family, friends, people, places and comrades past and present. Gray manages to conduct proceedings just off centre stage and you sense there was more to tell. But you’d be wrong to think this is some sort of full stop to this artist’s life. He already has plenty more work under way, and I get the feeling that we’ll be entertained and tested by A.Gray for some time yet.