Alasdair Gray unveils Glasgow Western Baths mosaic

ONE OF Scotland’s best-known artists, Alasdair Gray, has unveiled a major piece of his work in arguably the most unusual location yet - his local swimming baths.

He has gifted a giant floor mosaic for the Western Baths Club in Glasgow’s west end to mark the end of a two-year tenure as artist in residence there.

The theme of “Refresh Mind, Refresh Body, Refresh Land and Refresh Love” has inspired the images of men, women and children on the giant octagon-shaped piece.

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Some of them are pictured using the pool’s rings and trapeze equipment, with the Western Baths being one of just three pools to have such facilities in Scotland.

However despite regular visits to the Hillhead pool with friends, Gray, one of Glasgow’s most successful artists, admitted he cannot actually swim himself.

He added: “I come here for a paddle now again, or just to float about. I’ve never learned to swim - I don’t like putting my head under the water or the thought of it going in my ears.”

Measuring seven foot by seven foot, and featuring more than 60 separate tiles, it has been unveiled months after the unveiling of a new mural at Hillhead underground station designed by the “Lanark” author, who lives nearby.

Another local artist, Nichol Wheatley, who worked with Gray on the “Clockwork Orange” project, transferred his latest design to a series of traditional tiles which now form part of one of the Victorian baths’ downstairs halls.

The centre, one of the oldest private swimming clubs in the world, was opened in Cranworth Street in 1878. It was threatened with closure around 100 years later after falling into a derelict condition and part of the roof caved in. It is now thriving with around 2400 members.

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Bill Mann, the club’s honorary secretary, who led the rescue bid in the late 1970s, said: “It is traditional for artists in residence at the baths to leave a legacy of their tenure.

“Rather than a portrait or landscape painting, we were delighted with the idea of having a tile floor transformed with this innovative and striking art work.”

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Fraser Makeham, the club’s general manager, added: “It is a striking and highly appealing art work, because you view it as you go down the stairs.

“It perfectly captures the activities of the club with pictures of swimmers and people on the trapeze above our pool. The members are understandably delighted with it.

“We hope Alasdair’s work will inspire up-and-coming artists and the Western Baths Club will continue to showcase emerging local artistic talent in the years ahead.”

Gray, who also has a large mural on the ceiling of the nearby Oran Mor arts centre and bar-restaurant centre, added: “Nichol Wheatley made the installation as practical as our Hillhead subway design.”