Alasdair Gray's Lanark: A Life Made on Paper

Published: 1 June 2022

A new exhibition dedicated to the work of renowned Scottish writer and artist Alasdair Gray (1934–2019).

This new exhibition at The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, is dedicated to the work of renowned Scottish writer and artist Alasdair Gray (1934–2019).

Alasdair Gray's Lanark: A Life Made on Paper marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of Gray's first novel, Lanark: A Life in Four Books. Published in 1981, it is considered to be one of the greatest masterpieces of 20th-century Scottish literature.

The two-room exhibition at the Hunterian Art Gallery uncovers how Lanark was made and has been selected from the manuscripts and artworks created by Gray throughout the development of the novel that spanned three decades.

Lanark book cover by Alasdair GrayHighlights include the artist’s design for the jacket cover of Lanark and designs for the title pages of the four books. Also featured are just some of the varieties of found, recycled and repurposed sources of paper on which the manuscript was drafted and re-drafted, which include Gray’s personal notes, illustrations and detailed instructions to his typists.

Gray’s work on a larger scale, beyond the images associated with the making of 'Lanark', is also represented through works such as ‘Blossom and Diane’, ‘The Artist’s Family and Friend’ and his portrait of Scots Makar Edwin Morgan, ‘Portrait of EM (Edwin Morgan) (1920-2010)’.

Alasdair Gray was born in Glasgow in 1934. He studied at the Glasgow School of Art from 1952 to 1957 and subsequently made his living as a scenery and mural painter, a writer and a playwright. During the 1970s he worked as an ‘artist-recorder’ at the People’s Palace and was twice a writer in residence at the University of Glasgow. He died in December 2019.

Widely recognised as a modern classic, Lanark combines realism with fantasy. Planned in four ‘books’, two are realist in nature and describe the formative development of a young artist in Glasgow during the 1950s and 1960s. The remaining two books re-imagine Glasgow as the parallel and dystopian city, ‘Unthank’.

The manuscripts and artworks that feature in the exhibition were given by Gray to The Hunterian and the University of Glasgow Library, Archives and Special Collections. A selection of other works on paper by Gray, also presented to The Hunterian by the artist, is included. Most of these works have never been exhibited.

Alasdair Gray's Lanark: A Life Made on Paper is at the Hunterian Art Gallery from 14 June–2 October 2022. Open Tuesday–Sunday, 10.00am–5.00pm. Admission free.

Image: Alasdair Gray, Design for jacket cover of Lanark, 1982. The Hunterian, University of Glasgow. Courtesy The Alasdair Gray Archive. 

Alasdair Gray Archive logo





For further information contact:
Mungo Campbell, Deputy Director, The Hunterian

For images contact:
Harriet Gaston, Communications Manager, The Hunterian

Notes to Editors

The Hunterian

The oldest public museum in Scotland, with collections spanning arts, sciences and humanities, The Hunterian is at the forefront of university museums around the world. Since it opened at the University of Glasgow in 1807, The Hunterian has been an invaluable academic and community resource and in years to come, The Hunterian is committed to becoming a more meaningful place for more diverse audiences.

As a university gallery and museum The Hunterian creates space for intellectual inquiry and a process of learning and experimentation. The Hunterian collection’s Enlightenment history made a repository of knowledge that materialises the problematic history of Western modernity and its fundamentally colonial and capitalist underpinnings. The founding collection came through the bequest of Dr William Hunter (1718-1783) and since The Hunterian opened at the University of Glasgow in 1807, the collections have been developed in ways that reflect our city’s deep relationship with empire, transatlantic slavery, colonialism and migration. 

The Hunterian cares for some Scotland’s finest collections that cover subjects as diverse as the history of medicine, zoology and art. The whole collection is ‘Recognised’ as nationally significant in Scotland and includes outstanding Roman artefacts from the Antonine Wall; vast natural and life science collections; scientific instruments used by James Watt, Joseph Lister and Lord Kelvin; one of the world’s greatest collections of coins and medals and objects and belongings brought to Glasgow from around the world during hundreds of years of trade, empire, exploitation and migration. 

The Hunterian is also home to one of the most distinguished public art collections in Scotland and features works by James McNeill Whistler, the Glasgow Boys and Scottish Colourists, the largest single holding of the work of artists Margaret MacDonald and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, along with The Mackintosh House, the reassembled interiors from their Glasgow home. The Hunterian has also developed an important collection of works by leading contemporary artists including Christine Borland, Lucy Skaer and Adam Pendleton.

Twitter @hunterian
Facebook @HunterianGlasgow
Instagram hunterianglasgow

First published: 1 June 2022