Alasdair Gray Exhibitions – From the Personal to the Universal & Spheres of Influence I

‘From the Personal to the Universal’ runs at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum until 22nd February, ‘Spheres of Influence I’ runs at GOMA until 25th May

2015 marks the 80th birthday of Glasgow’s artistic and literary treasure, Alasdair Gray. The city really has gone all out with the festivities with exhibitions at Kelvingrove, GOMA, Glasgow Print Studio and Glasgow School of Art, all showcasing the artist’s life’s work.

Kelvingrove’s exhibition, From the Personal to the Universal, is well worth a visit. Through the gallery, the viewer walks through Gray’s artistic development from his early years through his period at Glasgow School Art and beyond.

The fantastical themed pictures of his youth morph into more “real life” scenes but still retain his characteristic use of vivid colours and clear, bold outlines.

Yet it is the portraits of people, of friends and family, above all else that are the most captivating. If the exhibition is about the personal becoming universal, then this series of pictures really emphasises that. For example, through his works depicting a couple whose relationship is slowly dying, Gray sensitively depicts very relatable human emotions of melancholy and heartbreak. On the other hand his photomontage portrait of a teenage secretary with the contents of her handbag (train tickets, cinema stubs etc.) shows his desire to capture the very personality of his subjects. This technique of photomontage is showcased a fair amount in the exhibition, highlighting Gray’s characteristically playful, whimsical style.

Overall, the exhibition reveals a little more of the artists view of his home city – Gray’s Glasgow is above all a place of warmth, colour and people amongst its cold gritty landscape. The number of works at the exhibition that have been commissioned by Glasgow residents prove that Gray is that rare thing – an artist who really engages with the public and whose work is blended into the very fabric of the city itself.

“Spheres of Influence” at GOMA follows in a similar vein, dissecting the artist’s work in a very detailed and thorough fashion. Works by artists who have inspired Gray are hung side by side to illustrate clearly the impetus of several of Gray’s works. It is skillfully arranged to provide real insight to Gray’s work- for example the Romanticism of his Lanark prints, inspired by Blake, may not have been immediately apparent, nor the fact that many of Gray’s figures in his works are very Durer-esque. There is also a delightful library corner with armchairs and several helpful books -including of course a copy of Lanark- which is in itself enough of a reason in itself to recommend the exhibition.

Overall these are two wonderful exhibitions, forming part of the Alasdair Gray season, which really explore in a great deal of depth the artists work and life. Glasgow is rightly proud.

[Alice Lannon]

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