ALASDAIR Gray, one of Scotland’s most revered and versatile artists, is to be honoured in his home city with a major exhibition to mark his 80th birthday.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum has confirmed plans for the first retrospective of his visual art which will open next September and run for about six months.
The show, in the space currently housing a Vettriano retrospective, will chart Gray’s career from his days at Glasgow School of Art to the present. Gray will be completing a major new commission for the exhibition – a painting of St Mungo, Glasgow’s patron saint. It will later go on display in the city’s religious museum named after the saint.
Gray has also said he wants to finish three “very ambitious” works he started in the 1960s for the show.
Kelvingrove officials say more than 100 works will go on display. Many will be from Gray’s collection, as well as loans from private and public sources. His agent, Sorcha Dallas, is curating the exhibition which will recount how Gray found early inspiration from Saturday morning art classes at Kelvingrove aged 11.
It is also expected to feature work he produced as “city recorder” in 1977, with paintings for the People’s Palace depicting the changing cityscape.
Gray’s varied career has included creating murals for religious buildings, working as a scene painter for the Citizens’ and Pavilion theatres, and writing plays for stage, radio and TV. He won acclaim for his 1981 novel Lanark.
The Kelvingrove show will be the centrepiece of a series of 80th birthday projects, including a cinema release for a documentary, exhibitions at the art school, Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art and the Glasgow Print Studio, a mini-festival next autumn, and a stage adaptation of Lanark.
Gray, a supporter of Scottish independence, is also writing a book on the issue to be published by Canongate. His Kelvingrove show will open in late-September, days after the nation’s destiny is decided.
Gray told Scotland on Sunday: “I wrote in my book, A Life In Pictures, of how I was enrolled in art classes at Kelvingrove run by a lady called Jean Irwin.
“Those Saturday mornings in one of the upper galleries was one of the happiest and most inspiring artistic periods of my life. I went there all the way through secondary school and only stopped when I went to art school. The exhibition will be a full retrospective. Of course I’m pleased Kelvingrove have agreed to do it. Artists are very vain fellows. We want as many of our works to be seen by as many people as possible. There is one big commission of St Mungo that I should have finished by now and there are some other very ambitious paintings I started in the mid-1960s. I’ve been carting them from place to place ever since and hope I’ll get the time to concentrate on finishing them for the exhibition.”
Ben Harman, curator of contemporary art at Glasgow museums, said: “This exhibition will offer the chance of re-discovery for those already familiar with Gray’s work and present valuable new experiences for visitors yet to discover and be inspired by his art.”
Bafta Scotland last week screened a new documentary about Gray’s career, A Life In Progress, which showed the painstaking work he put into the ceiling of the Oran Mor centre in Glasgow’s West End and the mural for his local Hillhead underground station. He told the audience at the event: “It’s only fairly recently that people have started taking me very seriously as a visual artist. They accepted me as a writer and book illustrator, but that was only because I’d illustrated my own books.”
Dallas, who signed him up only five years ago, said: “There are all kinds of things being planned to celebrate his 80th, but the Kelvingrove exhibition will be at the heart of it.”
Councillor Archie Graham, chair of Glasgow Life, which runs Kelvingrove, said: “Alasdair is a towering figure in the Scottish art and literary scene. The boy from Riddrie saw his life change when he started art classes at Kelvingrove and we’re delighted he will come full circle as we celebrate his 80th with a major retrospective where it all began.”