Alasdair Gray: Gray Stuff (5 stars)

Murals, posters, books and doodles from Glasgow polymath artist

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Alasdair Gray: Gray Stuff

Alasdair Gray is the very definition of a polymath, and Gray Stuff is a loving testament to his industry and curiosity.

The artist’s murals, theatre posters, books and doodles fill the gallery space at Talbot Rice, despite being of rather small physical stature. It’s possible to get lost for hours in one illustration as you try to discern the tiniest detail. Upon entering, you immediately encounter a collection of sketches and final drafts created by Gray for his celebrated 1981 novel Lanark. There is more than a nod toward woodcut and engraving styles of earlier centuries, but each piece has been stamped with Gray’s unique outlook of bold black lines and heavily stylised figures, faces and buildings; creating works which mirror those images of centuries past – but with a modern outlook of distorted perspective and stark imagery. Another wonder of his draughtsmanship is his economy of line: he manages to elicit expression, musculature and cityscape with the minimum of fuss, and without losing any of the humanity of such subjects.

Closer inspection reveals the thought process and editing behind the works. Gray is a lover of white correction fluid, but rather than spoil the delicate images, the contrast between this and the cream paper used in many of the creations actually adds to the sense of depth in the work. The notebooks on display – including recycled diaries or log books from as far back as the 19th century – also provide intriguing insight into Gray’s working process. In these he writes honestly about deadlines, hospital visits for loved ones, as well as giving a promise to document every day of a year.

Also revealing are the meticulous directions for publishers in the use of his work – instructions for reproducing in smaller scale, margins, fonts, and ideas for the inside of a book jacket. Clearly, this is someone who knows his craft inside out. There is enough within this exhibition to delight newcomers and fans alike – including two short documentaries playing on a loop so that the visitor might immerse themselves entirely in the Gray Stuff.

Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sat 11 Dec

Alasdair Gray: Gray Stuff

  • 5 stars

An exhibition of the writer-slash-Blakeian illustrator's designs for books and posters created between 1952 and 2007.

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