Alasdair Gray Bio
Alasdair Gray was a Scottish writer and artist. His first novel, Lanark (1981), written over almost 30 years, was described by The Guardian as “one of the landmarks of 20th-century fiction.” Poor Things (1992) won him a Whitbread Novel Award and Guardian Fiction Prize.
Alasdair Gray Nationality, Work
Gray was a civic nationalist and a republican. His works combine realism, fantasy, and science fiction, plus the use of typography and his own illustrations. He also wrote in support of socialism and Scottish independence and on the history of English literature.
He was seen as “a creative polymath with an integrated politico-philosophic vision”, and “perhaps the greatest living [writer] in this archipelago today”, and by himself as “a fat, spectacled, balding, increasingly old Glasgow pedestrian”.
Alasdair Gray Awards
In 2019, he was awarded the inaugural Saltire Society Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to Scottish literature.
Alasdair Gray Early life, Education
Gray was born in Riddrie, east Glasgow. His father had been wounded in the First World War and worked at the time in a factory, while his mother worked in a shop. During the Second World War, Gray was evacuated to Perthshire and then Lanarkshire, experiences which he drew on in his later fiction. The family lived on a council estate, and Gray received his education from a combination of state education, (at Whitehill Secondary School), public libraries, and the BBC: “the kind of education British governments now consider useless, especially for British working-class children”, as he later commented. He studied at Glasgow School of Art from 1952 to 1957 and taught there from 1958 to 1962. It was as a student that he first began what would become the novel Lanark.
Alasdair Gray Career
After his graduation, Gray worked as a scene and portrait painter, as well as an independent artist and writer. His first plays were broadcast on radio and television in 1968. Between 1972 and 1974, he participated in a writing group organized by Philip Hobsbaum, which also included James Kelman, Liz Lochhead, Tom Leonard, Aonghas MacNeacail and Jeff Torrington. From 1977 to 1979, he was Writer-in-Residence at the University of Glasgow. Unlikely Stories, Mostly won the Cheltenham Prize for Literature in 1983. In 2001, he became, with Tom Leonard and James Kelman, a joint Professor of the Creative Writing program at Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities.
Gray illustrated his books himself and produced many murals as well as paintings. One of his longest-lasting murals can be seen in the Ubiquitous Chip restaurant in the West End of Glasgow, and more recently in the Hillhead subway station.
In 2001, he stood as the candidate of the Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association for the post of Rector of the University of Glasgow but was narrowly defeated by Greg Hemphill. A longstanding supporter of the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Socialist Party, at the 2010 general election he supported his local Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate; by 2019 he was voting Labour. He described himself as a civic nationalist, stating in his 1992 book Why Scots Should Rule Scotland: “The title of this book may sound threatening to those who live in Scotland but were born and educated elsewhere, so I had better explain that by Scots I mean everyone in Scotland who is eligible to vote”. Following an essay written in 2012, in which he characterized English people working in Scotland as either long-term “settlers” or short-term “colonists” Gray – though writing with approval about the former – found himself being accused of being anti-English, and a critic of English immigration into Scotland. He disputed this. Gray’s full essay was published on the Word Power Books website Gray responded to criticism of his essay by stating that “…many of [his] best friends are English”.
Alasdair Gray Married, Wife
He was married twice: first to Inge Sorenson (1961–1970) and in 1991 to Morag McAlpine. McAlpine died after a short illness in May 2014. He had one son, Andrew, born in 1964.
His ceiling mural for the auditorium of the Òran Mór venue on Byres Road in Glasgow is one of the largest works of art in Scotland.
Gray frequently used the quotation, “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation,” which is engraved in the Canongate Wall of the Scottish Parliament building. He attributed the quote to Canadian author Dennis Lee.
Gray painted the artwork for Scottish band De Rosa’s second studio album, Prevention, which was released in 2009.
Alasdair Gray Death and Cause of Death
In June 2015 he was seriously injured in a fall at his home in Glasgow.
Following a short illness, Gray died in Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Glasgow, on 29 December 2019, the day after his 85th birthday. He instructed that his body should be given for medical science. Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland, remembered him as “one of the brightest intellectual and creative lights Scotland has known in modern times.”
Alasdair Gray Visual works
Gray was prolific as a visual artist from the time he graduated from the Glasgow School of Art in 1957 o. Trained in mural painting, his Glasgow murals include those in Hillhead subway station and in the arts and music venue Òran Mór (in collaboration with Nichol Wheatley). His paintings, drawings, and prints are well known and widely collected. His works are often sold on the art market, for example by the London auction houses. Examples of his paintings and prints are housed in various public collections, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, the National Library of Scotland, the Hunterian Museum, and the Arts Council of England collection. His art was celebrated in 2014-2015 with a major retrospective exhibition at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Examples of his art are also held in the privately-owned The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History.
In 1977–1978 Gray worked for the People’s Palace in Glasgow, a local history museum, as the city’s “artist recorder”. The job was funded through a job creation scheme set up by the Labour government of the day. While it lasted, Gray 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 of Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and formed a major component of the works on display at the retrospective exhibition.
In 2017 Gray’s first solo art exhibition in London was staged. The exhibition ran from 27 July to 12 August at the Coningsby Gallery, in Fitzrovia; and afterward was moved to the Leyden Gallery in Spitalfields, from 14 August to 9 September.