Friday 20 February 2015

ALASDAIR GRAY, Glasgow Art Gallery & DAVID EUSTACE at Edinburgh's Scottish Gallery

At long last , and none too soon, ALASDAIR GRAY has been given serious consideration and appropriate recognition with a large & glorious retrospective exhibition at Glasgow's Kelvingrove. 
Over 100 works from 1952 to today demonstrate his eagle eye, the strength and simplicity of his line; his superb use of colour & pattern, his dramatic viewpoints. For many Glaswegians it's a trip down memory lane, seeing old friends like Bethsy Gray, Liz Lochhead, Edwin Morgan, Elspeth King captured in their prime. A young Margot MacDonald, Jimmy Reid and his family at home, Tom McGrath in his chaotic Third Eye office looking onto Scott St, Reo Stakis before the Grosvenor Hotel burnt down Xmas/New Year 1977/8, Frank Worsdall and his Tenement book. 
We owe all these wonderful 1977 records of people & places to Elspeth King, who as curator of the People's Palace, took the initiative to invite Gray to be official "City Recorder."  She told me, "He worked as part of the government's Job Creation scheme. It was about 30 quid a week . A pitance. We got all the pictures that were a product of his time." Gray remembers it as "the pleasantest steady job of my life."
They agreed Gray would paint streets about to be demolished; folk in politics and the arts; interiors of work places including the workers. This produced street scenes of Bridgeton where Gray's family had lived; staff at the Daily Record newspaper, The Pewter Pot pub, Teddy Taylor MP drawn in a constituent's home in Castlemilk,  Jack House who was rightly often called Mr Glasgow, and who campaigned against the motorways destroying much of the city's centre. 
Gray quit his Recorder post to become Writer-in-Residence at Glasgow University."I would never have left if the wage had been enough to pay my half of my son's school fees." 
The show is chronological. Gray was drawing and writing by the age of 8, with his father typing out his "stories of magical worlds where I was rich and powerful."  
Nude at Red Table 1954
Gray attended Glasgow Art School for 5 years from 1952-57, and Nude at Red Table 1954 exemplfies Gray's characteristic, spare linear graphic style. He was to draw and paint single nude figures for the rest of his career. He also drew his son Andrew from babyhood onwards, with several delightful and heartfelt studies: on show here. 

  Lamlash Tearoom dates from a summer homework in 1952. The Campsies and Arran were a constant inspiration while a landscape of Brodick Bay seen from Goat Fell dates from 1965. Gray spent his honeymoon on Arran, then as so often, unemployed and strapped for cash.  
"People didn't want my work. It's only recently that people will buy it," he says. 

Bethsy Gray in her kitchen. 1983.

Lamlash Bay 1965
Murals have featured prominently in Gray's career - but that's another story. (Follow the West End Walking Tour and you can find 4 very near Kelvingrove on Byres Rd, and several others not so far away. )

Many know Gray for his novels, notably the award winning Lanark which Gray entirely designed - text, margins, illustrations and cover. He used the faces of many friends and family in these. The book was a huge success and remains a seminal work. Many books followed, and their readers may not have been aware of the strength and depth of Gray's visual art in its many & varied forms, including Hillhead subway murals 2012, Oran Mor's auditorium and - soon to be unveiled, St Mungo. 

For me portraiture is an outstanding feature of this exhibition - which concludes with Now & Then. His portrait of his American granddaughter Alexandra 2008 is as good as anything on show - not bad for Glasgow's resident genius and polymath. For the show celebrates Gray's 80th birthday. Happily he is in fine form & good spirits, able to savour this long overdue acclaim in his hometown.  
 A Gray by D Eustace

DAVID EUSTACE, Scottish Gallery Edinburgh

By happy chance international photographer David Eustace has also captured Gray on camera, a brilliant penetrating shot. Eustace has photographed many famous folk: Paul McCartney, Sophia Loren, Tracy Emin and Eve Arnold, herself a luminary of the camera world. 
 Eve Arnold 1996
Eustace has spent a lot of time in the States - sometimes working on large scale projects with NBC and Tom Brokaw. But his Scottish roots show thro' here with dramatic Highland landscapes of Torridon, Assynt, and Skye, and portraits of art world personalities like Emilio Coia, Robbie Coltrane and the lovely John Byrne.
Emilio Coia 

John Byrne 2011
This is a first for the Scottish Gallery. Established in 1842 when photography was an infant, the gallery has never, till now, exhibited photographs. It's also a first for me as I never write about shows I have not seen. But hospitals and a broken hip have put paid to that, and I am relying on the catalogue. However I do know David's work well having first written about him 20+ years ago.  Moreover last year he took MY portrait in New York - so I have the advantage of seeing him at work behind the camera - a thrilling experience. 
The show runs till February 28th so I may yet manage to see it in the flesh. 

Eustace has just published a monograph via Clearview Books plus he has a photo spread for a mens fashion story in Harrods Magazine. Busy guy!

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