Alasdair Gray puts Mor of us in the picture

Alasdair Gray surveys his work at Oran Mor ' formerly Kelvinside Parish Church. Picture: Robert Perry
Alasdair Gray surveys his work at Oran Mor ' formerly Kelvinside Parish Church. Picture: Robert Perry
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IT IS Alasdair Gray’s masterpiece in his native part of Glasgow and one of the biggest pieces of public art in the country.

Now, the renowned artist has revealed that work is to get under way on expanding his famous mural display at the Oran Mor arts and entertainment venue.

The three-year project will further transform the side walls and ceilings of the former church at the top of Byres Road in the city’s West End.

His portrayal of Glasgow will be joined by murals depicting 11 other parts of the country, including Edinburgh.

Private sponsors from around the country will be sought to help pay for the work, which will be planned by Gray and regular collaborator Nichol Wheatley to ensure minimum disruption to events in the venue, which is popular for wedding receptions and charity balls.

The new murals will be painted onto canvas and then hung inside the gothic building, which dates back to 1862 but had lain virtually derelict for years before it was given a new lease of life by businessman Colin Beattie.

Beattie said that he was about to begin moves to have Gray’s work in the building given legal protection to ensure they are never removed.

The famous Gray murals on the highest ceiling of the main auditorium chart the signs of the zodiac, as well as the movement of the stars and phases of the moon, as well as the home city of the 78-year-old. The next phase will increase the amount of Gray’s work inside the building by around a third. The existing murals cost around £350,000 to create.

Gray, a graduate of Glasgow School of Art, where he specialised in painting murals, has had a successful career as an artist, author and playwright.

After graduating, he taught art in Lanarkshire and painted murals in churches and a synagogue, but many were lost when the buildings were destroyed. He also worked as a part-time art teacher and scene painter for the Pavilion and Citizens theatres in ­Glasgow.

Gray said: “When I first heard Colin was getting the building, I thought I would approach him and suggest that I would like to paint a mural decoration in it, but he asked me if I wanted to get involved in the end.

“Initially I had thought about a pattern of stars on the roof of Oran Mor, but the way the area was divided up by the beams, I thought of the 12 months of the zodiac.

“I’ve had an idea for the lower side walls between the windows for a pattern of huge trees rising up between the arches reaching up to the sky.

“As there are five panels on the ceiling of the side aisles, almost between the branches of the trees, I thought it would be nice to have ten towns and cities across Scotland represented, and I thought it would be a good idea to have Edinburgh on the eastern gable, as Glasgow is already sufficiently represented at the west end of the building.

“The Glasgow parts of Oran Mor aren’t going away. But I see it all becoming like a small Scottish model of the universe.”

Beattie said: “I bought the building for £1.1 million ten years ago and around £7.4 million has now been spent on various improvements since then. There wasn’t much done before we opened up.

“Even when I was trying to raise the original finance from the banks, I never expected or wanted Oran Mor to be a ready-made pub. I always wanted it to evolve and have time to see it evolve over the years. This process is still very much ongoing.

“We’re already in discussion with like-minded people who would like to contribute to the completion of the murals and are seeking support at the moment. I’d be hoping work could start later this year.

“Some of Alasdair’s work has unfortunately been lost from other buildings, but that will never happen here and we are starting legal moves to ensure that there is protection in place in future.”

Further projects planned over the next few years include an official Edwin Morgan Garden outside the building, featuring a sculpture of the late poet, as well as new sculptures of comics Chic Murray and Billy Connolly which will be located in a refurbished garden at the north side of the building.

Oran Mor is also about to celebrate the staging of its 300th theatre production since launching the acclaimed A Play, A Pie and A Pint programmes.

The new plans for Oran Mor have emerged just months after Gray unveiled his latest work of art in the West End – a giant floor mosaic for the Western Baths Club, in Hillhead.

The theme of “Refresh Mind, Refresh Body, Refresh Land and Refresh Love” inspired the images of men, women and children on the giant octagon-shaped piece. Some of them are pictured using the pool’s historic rings and trapeze equipment.

Twitter: @BrianJaffa