Alasdair Gray: spheres of influence

Credit: BBC

In celebration of the 80th birthday of one of Scotland’s national treasures, Alasdair Grey, several exhibitions are being hosted around his hometown of Glasgow. An acclaimed artist and writer, Alasdair Gray is particularly celebrated for his novel, Lanark, which is decorated in his own brilliantly crafted illustrations. Lanark paints Glasgow in a surrealist and post-modern fashion.

Credit: BBC

The novel, accompanied by Gray’s jarring visual art alongside the dystopian writing, makes Lanark an extremely interesting perusal. Focusing on Gray’s visual art and his many influences, The Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow’s Royal Exchange Square boasts a collection of art by various artists working over the past four centuries, the most recognisable being fellow artist and writer William Blake, Albrecht Durer and Paul Gauguin.

Blake’s illustrations of his Lyrical Ballads certainly proved to be an interesting example of a writer offering a visual representation of what their literature means to them, and this is mirrored in the dark and sometimes eerie illustrations that Gray has chosen to represent the content of Lanark. Durer’s style is clear in the novel, and his characteristically dark style of engraving is seen as being a particular influence on Gray’s work.

Various other artists worth mentioning for their skill displayed in the halls of the exhibition provide insight into the progression of Gray’s talent, artists such as Kunisada (Toyokuni III), a Japanese artist famed for his ukiyo-e woodblock prints, and Aubrey Beardsley, who like Gray and Blake engaged in both writing and illustrating. Beardsley was, like Gray, hugely influenced by Japanese woodblock prints, and he effectively used this influence alongside exaggerated gruesome scenes, a style that is evident in the illustrated pages of Gray’s Lanark.

The exhibition itself works seamlessly, as we are first introduced to several of illustrations found in Lanark. These illustrations are then followed by the work of Gray’s influences – this gives visitors the opportunity to analyse and figure out how these pieces come together to form Gray’s artistry. It becomes a game, an investigation, and the clues are within each individual painting, engraving, print and illustration that have been so carefully selected by the gallery.

This is a fantastic opportunity for anybody- if you’re a Scot who wants to get more in touch with your culture, and if you’re not, then this is a chance to cultivate your knowledge of one of Scotland’s famous living artists. The exhibition is running until 28 May and it’s definitely worth the bus trip down to Glasgow, a city rich in artistic culture, being the home of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, The Lighthouse and Glasgow School of Art amongst many others. Why not make a weekend of it?


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