I have been a major follower of Alasdair Gray since my friend John got me reading Lanark and have followed the impressive author/illustrator through several other tomes. In Alasdair Gray’s work, I find both the fantastic and the contemporary fused together through a kind of intimacy rarely seen in literature. One of the finest authors of the day, if you are unfamiliar with his work, I highly recommend searching the shelves of your local or virtual shop.
BLOG POST BY DAVID MCGINTY.
PUBLISHED 20 FEBRUARY 2013
Glasgow’s ‘little grey deity’, as Will Self once called him, Alasdair Gray is a figure whose work looms over Scottish art and literature and is perhaps the city’s most significant cultural export. In recent years, director Kevin Cameron has documented the life of the artist and author, afforded the opportunity to film Gray as he works on some of his most famous murals, including that which covers the ceiling of Glasgow’s Òran Mór. This footage has now been collated to form the feature length documentary Alasdair Gray – A Life in Progress, which, though it covers the man’s early years and the road to his most acclaimed work Lanark, also focuses on his continuing activity and may be viewed as a portrait of the artist as a septuagenarian.
The artwork and novels of Alasdair Gray are famed for blending invention and reality, for creating fantasy from the mundane. Cameron’s portrait calls upon Gray’s friends, amongst them Liz Lochhead and the late Edwin Morgan, and sister Mora Rolley for insight into where these inspirations arose from and to what end they have influenced Gray’s life.
“I began making pictures and inventing stories as a way of escaping from the dull life of being a schoolboy and living in Riddrie, Glasgow, a way of escaping into a more adventurous and colourful world, the kind of worlds that I saw in the early Walt Disney movies – Snow White, Dumbo, Pinocchio,” the author says in Cameron’s previous film Alasdair Gray 0-70. “But as I entered my teens I began to realise that the people I knew, the Glasgow where I lived, was not a dull ordinary place really. It was as full of the materials of Heaven and Hell, of the possibilities of delight and horror, as anywhere else in the world or even places you could invent.”
Seldom have figures of Gray’s stature granted such ease of access into their lives and work. The films of Kevin Cameron are a rare opportunity to view the artist not as the monumental figure of university tutorials or a name on the walls of famous buildings, but as a living and working artist. Cameron’s film places Gray within the context of a world in which he is renowned, but also explores the reality of his life in the city that provides his greatest inspiration.
“You might say that while my pictures and stories and novels have often had a wildly fantastic element in them,” says Gray, “I’ve always had the realistic bit as well.”