Alasdair Gray & the Transnational Local
In terms of both literary work and visual practice, polymath Alasdair Gray has always been closely associated with his nation. Indeed, not just with Scotland but more specifically his city of Glasgow, where his mural work is now an integral part of the landscape.
Gray has long encouraged critical framing of his work in terms that foreground his lifelong attempt to ‘record Glasgow’s disappearing past’ while also asserting the equivalence of Glasgow’s imaginative potential with other world cities. In 2018, in an interview for the National Galleries of Scotland, Gray stated: ‘My work is Glaswegian in so far as it records my life in Glasgow…It’s as much documentary work, I suppose, as Dickens documents London, Dostoyevsky Moscow and St. Petersburg, or any artist documents their surroundings.’ Crucially, Gray roots his work in the local, but does so arguing this as part of an international tradition. This is explicit in his novel Lanark, in the oft-quoted passage comparing Glasgow to Florence, Paris and New York: ‘if a city hasn’t been used by an artist not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively’ – but it is also notable in his mural work. In this paper I will argue that, though Gray’s work is often described as ‘too Scottish for the English’, or worse, parochial, it is in fact transnational. Seeing Gray outside of an exclusively Scottish context may encourage fresh interpretations of the artist’s work, both literary and visual.
Rodge Glass, Reader, University of Strathclyde