Alasdair Gray – The Artist, the Man, the Pedestrian!

Alasdair Gray – The Artist, the Man, the Pedestrian!

A man’s a man for a’ that

Alasdair Gray is one of Glasgow’s most prolific and inventive artists and writers, closely pursued by ex poet laureate Edwin Morgan, latest poet laureate Liz Lockhead and the recently departed and ever eccentric Ivor Cutler 83. Alasdair Gray has had a busy life and career throughout the greater half of the last century, well deserving consideration; this then is a brief homage and comment to that most noble spirited pedestrian of Glasgow.

Alasdair 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, public libraries and public service broadcasting: “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.

Sadly, I have never met the man personally, but from what I have read of his work, and the presence it emits, the man is a rarity, a genuine self-styled creator, a maverick, as enigmatic as a hieroglyph; a sincere man of art, painting, poetry, prose, socialism, political and social commentary as well as full of acute observations on the life pursuit. When reading his work there is a genuine feeling through his tone and style of engaging with a man of culture, a man without haughty pretence or sense of stubborn position, a man that you might well stop to have a blether with on the street, at the bus stop, down Argyle Street, yet he is undoubtedly a man of grand passion and studied creativity - as wholesome as a potato.

Glasgow’s literary Grandfather!

Alasdair Gray designs every aspect of his books, tailoring them with drawings and typographical absurdities rarely seen on the page, even more outlandish than the American poet E.E. Cummings. Gray is a regular arts and crafts man. His literature shows great skill and ingenuity, not least demonstrated his epic first four part novel ‘Lanark’ a titanic and labyrinthine piece of literature, part biography, part social realism set in Glasgow, part fantasy, part diabolical absurdity set in Unthank a living Hell (Glasgow), confronting a mans and a cities ever complex relationship with God and reality. It’s a multiplex of a novel, a testament to pre and post-war Glasgow and Scotland, balancing precariously between biting political satire on social welfare and a dissection of darkness pervading relationships. The novel is at once weighty difficult yet in places simple straightforward and earthy. Mr Gray is a man of exuberant contradictions. Another piece if work worthy of attention is the polymorphous perverse ‘Janine, 1982’ a look at Britain and Scotland in 1980’s under Conservative government, laced with British and Scottish political comparisons, conflicts and conflagration through the eyes of half-crazed eyes of failing alcoholic Tory, Jock McLeish, who betrays to us his life, his failures with the female sex, whilst at the same time giving a tour de force account of the politics of pornography and the perversities of politics itself, lacing it throughout with Jocks schizoid sexual fantasies and depravities, attacking masculinity and femininity Left Right and Centre, while reminding of the fragile state of the emotional human psyche.

Some critics may say Mr Gray writes awkward, confused, lumpy narratives with scattered prose, littered with obscurities that may well be considered mistakes. But, if there is any validity to these claims, I say this is all part of the charm, part of breaking down of some literary barriers, and erecting some conversational artfulness. Of course, some might say, hey if I want a conversation I’ll go down the pub, (Mr Gray might well fancy the pub to) but for those who love to read and are not intimidated by a bit of a creative challenge I urge you to seek out some of Alasdair Gray’s work.

Personally, after a lot of reading I found myself searching for writers that dealt directly with the place I was born and raised and lived, I was forever reading American authors, Spanish, South American, English, writers far and way…but there is a strange affinity you gets from reading a fellow citizen…a real sense of smelling the same air…walking the same street…experiencing the same temperament within the atmosphere of Glaswegian, and more generally, Scots culture and life. It is easy to forget or even dismiss your own cultural inheritance but it always rewarding to discover it afresh and see what lies just outside your own door step –discover that your surroundings do have an imaginative heritage. One of Alasdair Gray’s murals, Arcadia, can be found in the Ubiquitous Chip at Ashton Lane in the West end of Glasgow. And he has done several murals throughout Glasgow some in private and public collections.

Pluck of a Haggis

God, perhaps I’ve blown this trumpet far to long, Mr Gray is just a man after all, but such consistent creative energy throughout the decades must be respected and acknowledged. After all Man is an intelligence that needs a fill of culture, and Gray is a fine portion of local culture. Indeed, if Gray was a meal, he would be the heartiest of hearty Haggises and we would devour him with relish, cracking jokes, and drinking jubilantly from glasses filled with the finest malt whiskey. Here’s to Alasdair Gray – a rare breed, a rare feast – Cheers fir aw’ that!

Find out more about Alasdair Gray at the following sites:
(You can also order rare and signed editions of his work)

Officially website: alasdairgray.co.uk/
Unofficial website: lanark1982.co.uk/
Overview of life/work: complete-review.com/authors/graya.htm